The Gospel Of Thomas

The apocryphon Gospel of Thomas is believed to have been written around 350 AD. Some date it earlier but content and style suggest this later date. Irenaeus, Origin, and Hippolytus writing around that time make reference to such non-canonical writing. Since the work does not contain historical data, that is, narrative insight, it is difficult to date it exactly. It contains statements attributed to Christ, Mary, Peter, Thomas, and Matthew.

There are three works alleged to have been written by Thomas: “The Gospel of Thomas,” “The Infancy Gospel of Thomas,” and “Book of Thomas the Contender.”

There is nothing Christian about the works. They are a collection of stories alleged to have occurred in the childhood of Jesus based on Hellinistic legend and pious thought. Interwoven is docetic and Gnostic philosophy. It furthers their teachings but detracts from the canonical gospels.

The author or authors of these works were not part of the Christian community. They showed no regard for mainstream Christian doctrine. They produced what Paul condemned as “another gospel.”

Irenaeus claimed in his classical Second century denunciation of Gnostic writers: “everyone of them generates something new, day by day, according to his ability, for no one is deemed perfect, who does not develop …some mighty fiction.”

The word Gnostic is derived from the Greek word Gnosis meaning “knowledge” or “the act of knowing.” From this same root comes our word agnostic meaning “not knowing.”

The school of Gnosticism holds that salvation of the soul comes from a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and from the sacred formulae within that knowledge.

These works were virtually unknown until 1945 when a Coptic version (an Egyptian language derived from the Greek alphabet) was found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It does not contain narrative material but is simply a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Christ many of which are contrary to those of the New Testament. When the Coptic version was found it was realized three portions of it had been found in 1898 in Oxyrhynchus, Egypt. These earlier Greek fragments vary in significant ways from the Coptic one.

The first line of the book refers to “didymos Judas thomas.” The word “didymos” is Greek for “twin.” The Aramaic work dor “twin” is “thomas.” This indicates the author’s name was Judas and he was called “the twin.” There is no mention of any such Judas in the New Testament. The Thomas of the New Testament is definitely not the author. The work does not bear his name in such a way as to indicate he was its author. It was originally ascribed to James. The preamble states these are “secret sayings,” this identifies the work as Gnostic intended to be esoteric in nature. The secret meaning being allegedly known only by gospel initiates.

Internal evidences indicate it was not the work of a First Century writer in that the author shows he had no concept of Jewish life in the time of Christ.

It teaches there were two creations recorded in Genesis 1 and 2. The first was perfect and the second flawed. The author contends the Kingdom of God exists now on earth but can only be seen in our surroundings by “the light within.” According to the author the Image of God still exists on earth today and persons should strive to assume that image and see the Kingdom of God here and now. Rather than wait for a future end-time Kingdom to come people are encouraged to return to the perfect Kingdom state here and now.

It depicts the challenge his parents had in rearing him as a strong willed petulant child with supernatural powers. He allegedly used these powers in devious ways like killing playmates, causing those angry with his father to go blind, and his teacher to faint. Only later in life did he begin to use his miraculous powers constructively.

In considering the creditability of the work as compared with ancient New Testament manuscripts a problem arises. Though there are fragments of the ancient Greek version of the text the Coptic version there is only one complete version. Compared with the numerous ancient New Testament texts it lacks verification.

James Robinson writing in the Nag Hammadi Library states:

“Neither the Coptic version nor the Greek fragments seem to have preserved this gospel in its oldest form. The comparison of the extant Coptic and Greek texts demonstrates that the text was subject to change in the process of translation.” Compared to the consistency of the ancient New Testament texts it is lacking in creditability. It is without redaction. The work was obviously under change by the Gnostics and the changes favor Gnostic teaching not Christ’s.

An example of the conflict between this fallacious gospel and New Testament teaching involves womanhood. In the Gospel of Thomas 114, Simon Peter is reputed to have said, ““Let Mary leave us for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, “I myself will lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’”

In Paul’s writings he tells us the wife of Peter was a believer (I Cor. 9:5). It is hard to conceive of him as a married man believing his wife wasn’t “worthy of life” simply because she was a woman. This is totally contradictory to the redemption mission of Christ. Under this concept salvation is a matter of maleness not the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Like so many passages this diminishes the role of Christ. The author sought to recreate Christ in his own image. Gnosticism in general does. It should be noted that present day proponents of “The Gospel of Thomas” have a similar purpose. Any document that presents an “emasculated Jesus” is welcomed by liberal thinkers.

Gnostic writers often used sexual symbols to communicate their concept of God. They envisioned Him as a dyad or duality, that is, He had both male and female natures.

One of their prayers revealed this: “From thee Father, and through thee Mother, the two immortal names….”

Their work represents Jesus more as a wisdom sage after the order of a Greek Cynic philosopher than a Jewish rabbi. He is not acknowledged as divine but as a worthy role model. He is represented as teaching the God of the Old Testament was evil.

There are some passages that parallel the Bible teachings of Christ. Some use this to argue for the reliability of the work. It is not an endorsement of Thomas. Rather when it does agree with the Bible it adds creditability to Scripture as another source showing the consistency of ancient New Testament texts.

Writing in the Fourth Century Cyril of Jerusalem mentioned “The Gospel of Thomas” in his “Cathechesis V.” “Let none read the gospel of Thomas, for it is the work, not of one of the apostles, but of one of Mani’s three wicked disciples.”

Any disciple of Mani was no follower of Christ. Mani (210-276 AD) was a Persian who believed salvation could be attained through education, self-denial, vegetarianism, fasting, and chastity. He later proclaimed himself the Paraclete spoken of by Christ. Our English word “manicheism” comes from his name and means “two opposing thoughts.” Indeed this work and the New Testament gospels form a manicheism.

A current reading of these meretricious works attributed to Thomas will do nothing to enhance ones Christian experience. It has long been dismissed as an unreliable bogus work by an unknown author.

Authors Grand and Freedman, no friends of conservative Christianity, wrote: “The Gospel of Thomas” is “probably our earliest significant witness to the perversion of Christianity by those who wanted to create Jesus in their own image….Ultimately (“The Gospel of Thomas”) testifies not to what Jesus said but to what men wished he had said.”

It is accepted that the Thomas of the New Testament upon leaving the land of the Bible went to India as an evangelist sharing the good news of Christ as revealed in the New Testament gospels. There are still Christian groups in India who trace their origins to Thomas. They relate only to the Thomas of the New Testament.