Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas is one of the most well preserved of the early Church writings. It is non-canonical but scholars have much information and analysis to provide for the writing.

Origins

There exist three early manuscripts, not complete, from about A.D. 200 from Oxyrhynchus,Egypt, leading scholars to believe it has copied many times. These fragments are each in Greek, placing its early early.

The only complete version of the so-called Gospel of Thomas is a Coptic version. It was discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, Egypt along with 52 other tractates (texts) which made up several (13) codex sets, of which the Gospel of Thomas is the second of seven in Codex II, otherwise known as the Coptic Gnostic Library. Scholars date the Gospel as early the first half of the 1st century and as late as the  end of the 2nd century.

Contents

In its text, the author is said to be Didymos Judas Thomas, a respected name in the Syrian Church. The Gospel reads unlike the canonical Gospels in that it is (and is self claimed to be) a collection of the sayings of Jesus, and includes no narrative or chronological references. Because of this, scholars have categorized it as a “sayings gospel.” It reads many times simply, “Jesus said:” or “The disciples asked Jesus: … Jesus told them: …”  The sayings contained are said by the author to be “secret” and if the reader is to “find the interpretations of the sayings”, he “shall not taste death.”

Upon reading the 114 different “sayings”, one will immediately realize many of them are similar to and identical to many prophetic and parabolic sayings of Jesus in the canonical Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, such as:

Perhaps men think I am come to cast peace upon the world; and they do not know that I am come to cast dissensions upon the earth, fire, sword, war.” (similar to Matthew 10:34)

The parable of the seeds cast to earth – Matthew 13

No prophet is accepted in his own village, no doctor heals those who know him.” (similar to Mark 6:4, Luke 4:24)

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Similar to Matthew 5:3)

There are several others. The other “sayings” are fascinatingly wise, and others are equally confusing. At the end of this I have a link to translations of the Gospel of Thomas where you can read them yourself.

References to the Gospel of Thomas

The earliest mention is Hippolytus of the early 3rd century, mentions the gospel. This is the earliest known (yet) reference to the writing, which would have been the Greek texts found at Oxyrhynchus.

Origen (A.D. 233) mentions it in his homily on Luke’s Gospel. Jerome, Ambrose, and Bede all copied this text of Origen.

Eusebius, well known Church historian, offers the text as heterodox apocrypha.

Philip of Side (A.D. 430) mentions the reference from Eusebius, offering that it was completely rejected by most Church elders.

Cyril (A.D. 386) did not count its author as an Apostle, instead stating that its author was of the disciples of Mani, founder of Manichaeism which is a Gnostic religion.

Conclusion

The Gospel is a very important piece of early Christian literature, is certainly Syrian, and is largely held to be of Gnostic source and use. Several, though not significant in number, of the “sayings” would allude to a Gnostic worldview: “Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.

To read more about the Gospel of Thomas and translation click here or see the major sources used below.

Major sources:

Schneemelcher, Wilhelm. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. I.
Cameron, Ron. The Other Gospels.