The Gospel of Thomas

by Bob Schwartz

The Gospel of Thomas—sometimes referred to as the Fifth Gospel—is one of a number of ancient texts about the life and words of Jesus that did not become part of the New Testament canon. Many of these, including Thomas, can be found in Marvin Meyer’s volume The Gnostic Gospels of Jesus: The Definitive Collection of Mystical Gospels and Secret Books about Jesus of Nazareth. Meyer, a brilliant scholar and translator who was an eminent expert on these gospels, explains:

The Gospel according to Thomas is an ancient collection of sayings of Jesus said to have been recorded by Judas Thomas the Twin. Unlike other early Christian gospels, which typically consist of narrative accounts interpreting the life of Jesus of Nazareth and culminating in descriptions of his death, the Gospel of Thomas focuses specifically upon sayings of Jesus. The document claims that these sayings themselves, when properly understood, communicate salvation and life: “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death” (saying 1).

The Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas came to light with the discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, within which the Gospel of Thomas is to be found as the second tractate, or document, of Codex II. According to Muhammad Ali of the al-Samman clan, who has told his story to James M. Robinson, this remarkable manuscript discovery took place around December 1945….

As a gospel of wisdom, the Gospel of Thomas proclaims a distinctive message. In contrast to the way in which he is portrayed in other gospels, particularly New Testament gospels, Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas performs no physical miracles, reveals no fulfillment of prophecy, announces no apocalyptic kingdom about to disrupt the world order, and dies for no one’s sins. Instead, Thomas’s Jesus dispenses insight from the bubbling spring of wisdom (saying 13), discounts the value of prophecy and its fulfillment (saying 52), critiques end-of-the-world, apocalyptic announcements (sayings 51, 113), and offers a way of salvation through an encounter with the sayings of “the living Jesus.”

The readers of the Gospel of Thomas are invited to join the quest for meaning in life by interpreting the oftentimes cryptic and enigmatic “hidden sayings” of Jesus. They are encouraged to read or hear the sayings, interact with them, and discover for themselves the interpretation and meaning. Saying 2 describes the vicissitudes of such a quest for insight: “Jesus said, ‘Let one who seeks not stop seeking until one finds. When one finds, one will be troubled. When one is troubled, one will marvel and will reign over all’”. That is to say, the quest for meaning is to be undertaken with commitment; and while the way taken may be upsetting, people will attain insight and rest if only they persevere. For it is in the quest and through the quest that people find themselves and God. Then, according to the Gospel of Thomas, they discover that God’s kingdom is not only outside them but also inside them, that they are “children of the living father” (saying 3), and that they are essentially one with the savior. Saying 108 makes this point by using mystical language: “Jesus said, ‘Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to that person.’”

Following are a few of the sayings; spiritual explorers are urged to find and read them all. Some sayings will seem familiar, sounding much like famous sayings found in the canonical gospels. Others will be new, obscure and mysterious—as they are meant to be.


The Gospel of Thomas

(2)
Yeshua said,
Seek and do not stop seeking until you find.
When you find, you will be troubled.
When you are troubled,
you will marvel and rule over all.

(5)
Yeshua said,
Know what is in front of your face
and what is hidden from you will be disclosed.
There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

(7)
Yeshua said,
Blessings on the lion if a human eats it,
making the lion human.
Foul is the human if a lion eats it,
making the lion human.
[Meyer’s note: This obscure saying seems to appeal to the lion as a symbol of all that is passionate and bestial: the passions may either be consumed by a person or consume a person.]

(18)
The students said to Yeshua,
Tell us how our end will be.

Yeshua said,
Have you discovered the beginning and now are seeking the end?
Where the beginning is, the end will be.
Blessings on you who stand at the beginning.
You will know the end and not taste death.

(26)
Yeshua said,
You see the speck in your brother’s eye
but not the beam in your own eye.
When you take the beam out of your own eye,
then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

(31)
Yeshua said,
A prophet is not accepted in the hometown.
A doctor does not heal those who know the doctor.

(34)
Yeshua said,
If a blind person leads a blind person,
both will fall in a hole.

(42)
Yeshua said,
Be passersby.
[Meyer’s note: Or, “Be wanderers,” or, much less likely, “Come into being as you pass away” (Coptic shope etetenerparage). A parallel to this saying appears in an inscription from a mosque at Fatehpur Sikri, India: “Jesus said, ‘This world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not build your dwelling there.’”]

(51)
His students said to him,
When will the dead rest?
When will the new world come?
He said to them,
What you look for has come
but you do not know it.

(52)
His students said to him,
Twenty-four prophets have spoken in Israel
and they all spoke of you.

He said to them,
You have disregarded the living one among you
and have spoken of the dead.

(54)
Yeshua said,
Blessings on you the poor,
for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

(70)
Yeshua said,
If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you.
If you have nothing within you,
what you do not have within you will kill you.

(113)
His students said to him,
When will the kingdom come?

Yeshua said,
It will not come because you are watching for it.
No one will announce, “Look, here it is,”
or “Look, there it is.”
The father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth
and people do not see it.
 

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