Thursday, April 19, 2007

Gospel of Thomas--Some Thoughts

Since its discovery in the Egyptian desert in 1945, the Gospel of Thomas has been the object of much discussion.

Some have called it the fifth gospel (hardly). Others think it's "Q" (plausible, yet doubtful). One thing is certain--it is interesting reading.

Unlike the Gospels you know (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Gospel of Thomas tells no stories about Jesus: Nothing about his birth, childhood, public ministry, arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, appearances, or ascension. Instead, Thomas is simply a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus.

About 1/4 of Thomas reads like the Gospels. Similar to what Jesus says about the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:1-9, and Luke 8:4-8 is Thomas' saying # 20:
The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what Heaven's kingdom is like."He said to them, "It's like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."
Another 1/4 of Thomas reads similar to the Gospels. For example, with parallels with Jesus' fishing stories in Luke 5 and John 21 is Thomas' saying # 8:
And he said, The person is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish. Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!
But the last 1/2 of Thomas attributes some pretty strange sayings to Jesus that bear no resemblance to the New Testament Gospels. Take for example, saying # 22:
Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom."

They said to him, "Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?"

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]."
Hmmm...entering the Kingdom of Heaven sure is easy, huh? Notice there's no call to believe in Jesus in any sort of way.

The weirdest saying of all most definitely is # 114:
Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
This saying panders to the 1-2 century belief that women were 2nd class citizens and inferior to males. But the Gospels that you and I know always show Jesus treating women with dignity and respect. In Luke 7 for example, Jesus raises up a widow's son and heals a woman's illness. Then in chapter 8, Luke lists the names the women who followed Jesus around in his public ministry, even mentioning that they provided financia support.

But what sets apart the Gospel of Thomas from the New Testament Gospels is its claim--made right at the beginning in the opening prologue--that it shares "secret" knowledge. The trouble is, with lots obscure sayings, like # 22 given above, how you crack that nut of knowledge and gain those secret truths is left to you.

And that's not really much of a "good news" Gospel.

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