For recent views to the contrary, see C. Blomberg, "Tradition and Redaction in the Parables of the Gospel of Thomas," in Gospel Perspectives: vol. 5, The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels (ed. David Wenham; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984) 177-206; and C. Tuckett, "Thomas and the Synoptics," NovT 30 (1988) 132-57. K. Snodgrass believes that "the bulk of the material seems to have its origin in the canonical Gospels" through oral tradition derived from those Gospels ("The Gospel of Thomas: A Secondary Gospel," SecCent 7/1 [1989-90] 38). His argument seems to concede that no literary dependence can be proved. For recent discussion on the date of Thomas, see J.M. Robinson, "From Q to the Gospel of Thomas," in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (ed. C. Hedrick and R. Hodgson; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986), wherein the view that Thomas is second century or later is discussed and criticized; and H. Koester, Introduction to the New Testament: vol. 2, History and Literature of Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982) 150-54. S. Patterson argues that Thomas was written in the last three decades of the first century ("Introduction to the Gospel of Thomas," in Q Thomas Parallels [ed. J. Kloppenborg et al.; Sonoma, CA: Polebridge 1990] 90). of Mark and John. Today many of those seriously concerned with the historical Jesus, with determining the most original forms of the sayings of Jesus, or with the study of Jesus' parables turn to the Gospel of Thomas for information as readily as to the Synoptics.]]
Kenneth Neller has recently attested to its integrity: "That the coptic Gospel of Thomas is a complete literary work, designed to stand as a whole, there can be no doubt. It is unified by its claim to a single author; it is unified by its relatively consistent form; it is unified in its content." [[K. Neller, "Diversity in the Gospel of Thomas: Clues for a New Direction," SecCent 7/1 (1989-90)3. His essay provides extensive citations to the literature on Thomas.]] Accordingly, serious efforts must be made not simply to mine the Gospel of Thomas for passages paralleled in canonical materials but to seek understanding of the ideas and ideology of Thomas itself.
In the following essay I argue that Jesus, as Thomas portrays him, insists that the world ought to be considered to be in the condition of Gen 1:1-2:4 and, accordingly, that people should restore themselves to the condition of the image of God. They will then live in this world with the rest and immortality proper to the seventh day of creation. Jesus is to be understood accordingly; one who seeks Jesus will find him when the hidden primordial state of the world is found. However, Jesus is not himself an essential element in salvation, and so, in Thomas, Christology per se is actively discouraged.
In saying 77 of the Gospel of Thomas Jesus declares himself to be the light that is above all things and thus declares himself in that respect to be all things. [[Gos. Thom. 77a: "Jesus said, 'It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend.'"
Gos. Thom. 77b: "Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."
This and other translations from the Gospel of Thomas are by Thomas O. Lambdin in Nag Hammadi Codex II, 2-7 Volume One (ed. B. Layton; Leiden: Brill, 1989) 52-93.
Gos. Thom. 77b: "Split a piece..." etc, is appended to Gos. Thom. 30 in POxy. 1. This probably means that 77b once existed independently of 77a, but whether this means that 77a existed once independently of 77b in Thomas we do not know. It is possible that 77b was appended both to 77a and to 30 in POxy 1.]] From him, primordial light, all comes forth, and to him all extends. As the light, he is everywhere, for example, within logs and under stones. People are said to come forth from the kingdom (saying 49), which too is the light (saying 50a). [[Gos. Thom. 49: "Jesus said, 'Blessed are the solitary and elect, for you will find the kingdom. For you are from it, and to it you will return.'"
Gos. Thom. 50a: "Jesus said, 'If they say to you, "Where did you come from?" say to them, "We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established [itself] and became manifest through their image."'"]] According to Gos. Thom. 24 one learns that those seeking the place where Jesus is ought not seek Jesus himself, but will find what they seek within themselves, the primordial light which, when actualized, illuminates the world. [[Gos. Thom. 24: "His disciples said, 'Show us the place where you are, since it is necessary for us to seek it.' He said to them, 'Whoever has ears, let him hear. There is light within a man of light, and he lights up the whole world. If he does not shine he is darkness.'"]]
For Thomas the kingdom of God is the indwelling of light in all things within people (Gos. Thom. 3, 24) and outside of them (Gos. Thom. 113, 77). [[Gos. Thom. 113: "Jesus said, 'If those who lead you say to you, "See, the kingdom is in the sky," then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, "It is in the sea," then the fish will precede you. Rather the kingdom is inside of you and outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.'"]] When people actualize their inherent ability to perceive through primordial light, they perceive the world to be the kingdom of God (Gos. Thom. 3, 113). [[Gos. Thom. 3: "His disciples said to him, 'When will the kingdom come?' Jesus said, 'It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying "Here it is," or "There it is." Rather the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.'"]]
The light that is within people and outside of them exists now. As a result, those who search for the end are told that the end (i.e., the kingdom of God) is present already (Gos. Thom. 51, 113). When asked about the end, Jesus responds in terms of the beginning (Gos. Thom. 18); when asked about the kingdom to come, Jesus responds in terms of the kingdom which is already here (Gos. Thom. 113). [[Gos. Thom. 18: "The disciples said to Jesus, 'Tell us how our end will be.' Jesus said, 'Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning: he will know the end and will not experience death."]] The beginning, the kingdom of God, Jesus, and the light are equivalent terms, all of which are present now. The equation of the beginning with the end interprets the nature of the light from which all things came forth; it is the primordial light of the beginning of Genesis (1:3-4).
The reader will realize from the preceding discussion that I am seeking to find equivalencies among terms rather than to discover whatever subtle distinctions might exist. For example, in saying 49 people are said to come from the kingdom; in saying 50 people are said to come from the light. Thus, kingdom and light are equivalent terms. If Jesus says he is the light, if the light is throughout the world (including people), if the kingdom similarly is throughout the world (including people), and if the kingdom is not the end but the beginning, then the distinctions between "light," "kingdom," and "beginning" are more terminological than real.
As I will discuss below, Thomas seems to derive from the same milieu as does Philo - Hellenistic Judaism, which produced its vocabulary largely through allegorical exegesis to conclude that term A is the equivalent of term B and of term C. Thus a text containing terms B and C may be understood to discuss A even though A is not mentioned. [[C. Blomberg writes: "Davies's discussion does warn one against too readily reading this enigmatic gospel from a uniformly Gnostic viewpoint....But Davies errs to the opposite extreme of reading everything in light of Jewish Wisdom literature, even to the extent of equating the terms 'kingdom,' 'light,' 'image,' and the 'living one' all with wisdom!'" ("Tradition and Redaction in the Parables of Gospel of Thomas," in Gospel Perspectives: vol. 5, The Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels [ed. David Wenham; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984]179). While I defend this procedure, I am becoming dubious that "wisdom" is the best exegetical ruling metaphor; "light" or "beginning" may be more appropriate, for "wisdom" is not a concept specifically affirmed in the text. See S. Davies, The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom (San Francisco: Seabury/Harper & Row, 1983) passim.]] Philo makes such claims when he equates God's wisdom and God's logos and writes:
Thus "Beginning," "image," "vision of God," "representation," "shadow," "wisdom," and "logos" are equivalent terms. Similarly, in Thomas, "beginning," "kingdom," "light" are equivalent terms; they too originate from a tradition of the allegorical exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2. Similarly, Aristobulus writes allegorically that
Like Philo, Aristobulus seeks to discover, or create, equivalencies among terms.
Thomas, like John, works from an allegorical logic foreign to our usual modes of thought. For John, Jesus is the "way," the "truth," the "life," the "logos," and the "light," and so these are equivalent terms in John's Gospel. Indeed, the idea that Jesus is the light from whence all comes forth at the beginning, the light of men enabling all to be children of God (cf. "sons of the living Father," Gos. Thom. 3) is Thomas's perspective as much as it is the perspective of the preamble to John's Gospel.
To return to the discussion of Thomas's location of the kingdom in the beginning, saying 177 should be understood in respect to the sayings that immediately follow: 18 and 19. [[Gos. Thom. 17: "Jesus said, 'I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind.'"
Gos. Thom. 18: quoted above in n. 8.
Gos. Thom. 19a: "Jesus said, 'Blessed is he who came into being before he
came into being.'"
Gos. Thom, 19b: "If you become my disciples and listen to my words, these stones will minister to you." (Cf. 77b.)
Gos. Thom. 19c: "For there are five trees for you in Paradise which remain undisturbed summer and winter and whose leaves do not fall. Whoever becomes acquainted with them will not experience death."]]
That which previously was unseen, unheard, untouched, unthought is now available, according to sayings 18 and 19, for it is the end that is the beginning. A person who takes his place in the beginning will know the end and not experience death; thus the beginning is a state of being that can be comprehended in the present. Heretofore hidden, the beginning now is revealed (sayings 5, 6, 108). Thomas's saying 17 refers to the kingdom of God in the physical world, a visible, audible, tangible, experienced reality (sayings 3, 51, 113). When Paul quotes a scripture paralleled in saying 17 (1 Cor 2:7-9), he too understands that what is now revealed has existed from the beginning: "a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification." Similarly, when 1 John 1:2 alludes to what evidently is saying 17, or Paul's scripture, what has happened in the present is associated with the beginning: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life...."
According to saying 24 people may actualize the light within them and thus see the world and themselves in terms of the light of creation. They will see the world in reference to its beginning perfection, stand at the beginning (saying 18), and need no future attainment. They will know themselves to be sons of the living Father (saying 3) -- that is, the image of God, no longer male or female and having made the male and female into a single one, they will enter the kingdom of heaven (saying 22). [[The comments found in several sayings that advocate people "make the two one" or celebrate the solitary monachos may refer to the union of the sexes characterizing humanity in Gen 1:27 and Gos. Thom. 22. References to a bridal chamber in sayings 75 and 104 may also be references to this primordial union of the sexes. There are no grounds in Thomas to presume that the references are to an actual bridal chamber ritual.]]They will not know themselves to be from somewhere else, to be strangers in this world or to be fragments of another realm; they will know themselves and all else to be from the beginning perfection of Genesis 1 (saying 19), and will envision now the kingdom of God spread upon the earth (saying 113).
Thomas does not tell its readers how to actualize the primordial light within them, but it is equivalent to knowing themselves (sayings 3, 67) and to bringing forth, or begetting something from, themselves (saying 70); thus they are reborn. If in saying 15 "one who was not born of woman" refers to the original creation of humanity, then people reborn in God's image will not have been born of woman. They will exist in the condition of the image of God (saying 22) and in that sense may be considered images of their divine Father. They will not, of course, worship themselves but the divine Father whose image they are.
A person who has actualized the primordial light has become (is reborn as) an infant (saying 22) precisely seven days of age (saying 4), for he dwells in the seventh day of Genesis. Reflecting the fact that the kingdom of God, like the light, is within and outside of people, such "infants" have made what is inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and have restored the primordial condition of the image of God; this is the meaning of Gos. Thom. 22.
The seven-day-old infant (saying 4) lives at the beginning (sayings 18, 19) in the light of creation (sayings 24, 77) before Adam (saying 46) and in a manner superior to Adam (saying 85) standing naked and unashamed (saying 37; cf. Gen 2:25; 3:7). "Infants" who have actualized the light and the kingdom within and outside themselves have replaced a former image of the image of God with the unisexual image of God itself.
The image of God (Gen 1:27) exists at the seventh day (Gos. Thom. 4) having been given dominion to rule (Gos. Thom. 2; Gen 1:26) over all creatures, in a state of rest (Gos. Thom. 2 [POxy. 654] 51, 60; Gen 2:2-3). Death occurs to Adam, not to the image of God (Gos. Thom. 85; Gen 3:19). The compiler of the Gospel of Thomas understands the first chapters of Genesis in their plain sense, that there are two creations of primordial humanity: the image of God brought forth in Gen 1:1-2:4, Adam created in Gen 2:5-3:24. For the first, the image of God, there is neither law nor sin, nothing that would require prayer or fasting or giving of alms (Gos. Thom. 14, 104). The image of God has dominion over the perfect kingdom of God, living through the light of creation (Gen 1:3-4) in a condition of rest and immortality.
Thomas offers a view of Christian transformation not terribly different from the Pauline view. For Paul, Christ is the Image of God (cf. 2 Cor 4:4) and the "second Adam" who is the man of heaven. He writes that "as was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor 15:45-49) who is Christ, the image of God. Indeed, according to the author of Colossians, Christ is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Col 1:15). Robin Scroggs believes Col 3:9-11 provides a particularly clear statement of this theme of renewal into the image of God:
For Thomas the world can be conceived in two ways, from the perspective of the primordial light and the beginning, or from the everyday perspective. The difference between these two perspectives is discussed in Thomas's sayings 50a, 83 and 84. [[Gos. Thom. 50a: "Jesus said, 'If they say to you, "Where did you come from?", say to them, "We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established [itself] and became manifest through their image."'"
Gos. Thom. 83: "Jesus said, 'The images are manifest to man, but the light in them remains concealed in the image of the light of the father. [It] will become manifest but his image will remain concealed by his light.'"
Gos. Thom. 84: "Jesus said, 'When you see your likeness, you rejoice. But when you see your images which came into being before you, and which neither die nor become manifest, how much you will have to bear!'"
I read for saying 83 not "he will be manifest..." but "It [the light of the Father] will be manifest...." That the Father Himself becomes manifest while His image does not is, I think, an absurdity in the context of Thomas.]] Unfortunately, however, these sayings presuppose an underlying metaphysics that is hinted at so briefly and that is so dependent on unclear pronoun references that certainty in regard to their interpretation may be impossible. Still, it is hard to deny that these sayings refer ultimately to a form of Platonism wherein there is a highest reality, an image of that reality, and an image of that image which is, evidently, the world as it is ordinarily perceived.
In sayings 50a, 83, and 84, it appears that the images which constitute the world as ordinarily perceived are seen through the image of the primordial light (or, alternatively, the image of the light of the Father). The image of primordial light is our ordinary sunlight. Seeing always in an ordinary way, by ordinary sunlight, precludes seeing the primordial light that permeates all things. In this way the light of the Father is concealed by the image of the light of the Father.
The primordial light, the light of the Father will become manifest to a man of light (Gos. Thom. 24), but the image of God, which people really are (sayings 22, 50a, 84) does not become manifest. Thus, the Father's image will remain concealed by his light. Analogously, the image that people truly are is not seen; rather, people see a reflected likeness as in a mirror (saying 84).
The man of light (saying 24) is the restored image of God (saying 22), but it is only as the former that he is manifest to the world; and so Jesus, the exemplary man of light, declares, "I am the light" (saying 77). To those who have actualized the image of the Father, the primordial light will be manifest within themselves. Therefore, when Gos. Thom. 50a speaks of the primordial light become manifest through their image it presumably refers to unmanifest images of God (i.e., actualized people) who perceive the primordial light and so manifest the light to themselves.
In light of this discussion, the answers to the questions in Gos. Thom. 50 are not terribly obscure:
As all things came from the light (saying 77), so those who came from the light are distinguished not by their manner of origin but by their realization of the fact. the place in which the light came into being is the place of Gen 1:3. Because the light persists in the world as the kingdom of God, there is no idea here of a fall of the light. A person who is the restored unmanifest image of God will manifest to himself the primordial light which is upon the world (sayings 22, 24, 83, 84).
Light is the creative force in Thomas (Gos. Thom. 77; Gen 1:3). As people are created through the light of the Father, they are children of the light or sons of the living Father (saying 3) or, equivalently, the elect of the living Father. Whereas all people are potentially children of the light, only those aware of this fact are in actuality children, elect, sons, etc.
The seven days of Genesis begin with the Spirit moving upon the waters, continue through six days of the movement of creation, and conclude with a day of repose. If the state of actualized humanity is that of the beginning--insofar as the beginning is movement and repose--then the sign of the Father in actualized humanity is the same.
The colloquy found in saying 50 between people who know their origins and people who interrogate them, asking "Where do you come from?" "Is it you?" and asking for "the sign of your father within you," is not unlike colloquies found in the Gospel of John. In John 8:12-59, for example we find such statements as "I am the light of the world," "I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I came from or where I am going," as well as such questions as "they said to him, 'Where is your father?'"; "they said to him, 'Who are you?'"; and "how can you say, 'You will become free?'" The rather well- established similarities between Thomas and John should lead one to look to John for clues to the understanding of Thomas's enigmas. [[Cf. R. Brown, "The Gospel of Thomas and the Fourth Gospel," NTS 9 (1962-63) 155-77; and H. Koester, "Gnostic Sayings and Controversy Traditions in John 8:12-59," in Nag Hammadi, Gnosticism and Early Christianity (ed. C. Hedrick and C. Hodgson; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1986) 97-100. Koester regards John *:14b to be "patently gnostic" and notes its general similarity to ideas in Gos. Thom. 49-50. It can be argued that if John is Gnostic Thomas is also Gnostic, but I do not see why this will be a useful line of reasoning. To read the Apocryphon of John, perhaps the locus classicus of Gnosticism, is to realize whatever Thomas and John are ding the Apocryphon of John is doing something else.
Koester and Patterson's often-published perspective on sayings 49 and 50 is plain wrong. They believe that one may justly infer that these sayings especially, but others as well, derive from the thought world of those Gnostics who "believed that both their origin and their destiny lay in the supreme deity who dwells in a heavenly place removed from the evil world, the creation of a rebellious angel or demiurge..." and that saying 50 speaks of "the simple memorization of passwords" to be delivered to archons so as to enable Thomasine Christians to ascend from the confines of this world when the time comes (H. Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels [Philadelphia: Trinity Press, 1990]125-26; and see H. Koester and S. Patterson, "The Gospel of Thomas," BibRev 6 28-39; S. Patterson, ! Thomas Reader [ed. J. Kloppenborg et al.; Sonoma, CA: Polebridge, 1990] 96-97; and idem, "The Gospel of Thomas and the Historical Jesus: Retrospectus and Prospectus," in Society of Biblical Literature 1990 Seminar Papers [ed. D. Lull; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990] 623).
These ideas apply to the Apocryphon of John but not to the Gospel of Thomas in whole or in part. Thomas urges individuals to seek and find the kingdom of God spread upon the earth now (sayings 3, 113). Those who come from the light come from light here now (sayings 24, 77). The light of the beginning is here now (saying 18) and Thomas's references to the beginning are consistent with first-century exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2. Thomas nowhere refers to any demiurge or to any rebellious angel or any place for the kingdom apart from this world). Thomas knows nothing of archons to whom passwords are to be delivered, nor does Thomas mention any ascent by anyone to anywhere.]]
John's Gospel contrasts this world with another world from which Jesus comes (cf., e.g., 8:23; 17:13-19). Thomas is not dualistic in this sense. For Thomas there is no contrast between this world and another world; rather Thomas contrasts this world as apprehended properly with this world not apprehended properly. Thomas is replete with sayings contrasting the condition of people who do and who do not apprehend the world through the primordial light of the beginning. Those who do are full; those who do not are empty (Gos. Thom. 28). Those who do are united and filled with light; those who do not are divided and in darkness (saying 61). Those who do are wealthy (sayings 85, 110); those who do not are in poverty (saying 3). Those who do drink from Jesus and become like Jesus (sayings 13, 108); those who do not are drunk and do not pay attention to Jesus (saying 28).
Gos. Thom. 28 states that all people are blind and empty and drunk initially, yet saying 77 states that everything comes forth from the light. Accordingly, Thomas does not presume that some individuals have light within them while others do not, or that some people derive from the light while others do not, or that some people are born in poverty or born empty while others are born in wealth or born full. In respect to the beginning, all are born from wealth and power (saying 85). In respect to their usual condition in the world, all are born empty and in poverty (sayings 3, 28). All people are born in the same condition; they are differentiated by what they realize themselves to be. Whether they are in the image and light of God proper to the beginning and hence in the kingdom, or whether they are not, depends on their own awareness of what is within themselves and outside themselves.
Those who achieve the excellence Thomas commends are people who live from the living one immortally (sayings 11, 111), while those who do not do so live from the dead and will die (sayings 7? 11, 60, 87). [[Gos. Thom. 11: "Jesus said, 'This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it what is alive. When you come to dwell in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?'" (see saying 22: "Make the two one...and the above like the below...then you enter [the kingdom].")
Gos. Thom. 111: "Jesus said, "The heavens and the earth will be rolled up in your presence. And the one who lives from the living one will not see death.' Does not Jesus say, 'Whoever finds himself is superior to the world'?" [emphases added].]] This theme is peculiar to Thomas in early Christian writing. It stems from the observation that people do not eat living animals but dead ones (saying 60), an observation contrasted with the possibility of eating that which is living, which would entail living from the living one rather than from dead animals (saying 111).
In Gos. Thom. 11 and 111 we find Thomas's transformation of what were originally eschatological pronouncements; for Thomas they make reference to events that will happen "in your presence," when you find yourself and, equivalently, come to dwell in the light or the kingdom. As is the light (saying 24), so the kingdom is within and outside (sayings 3, 22), above and below (saying 22). Therefore, when a man of light discovers the kingdom within, he is superior to the world previously and ordinarily apprehended, a world which for him has now passed away. The idea of "living from the living one" must be understood in light of those principles. Whoever "recognizes the world" in the Thomasine sense, a world permeated by the primordial light of the kingdom of God, finds the body (saying 80) and those who find the body are highly commended: they are superior to the ordinary world. But what body do they find? If it is the "living" body from which one ought to live, it is the body of the living one. [[This conception is perhaps related to the Stoic idea of the world as the body of the divine, an idea reflected in the pre-Pauline hymn quoted in Col 1:18; see E. Lohse, Collosians and Philemon (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971) 53-54.
Gos. Thom. 56 is a scribal alteration of saying 80, the word ptoma having been substituted for soma. Saying 87 criticizes the (normal) eating of dead animals; saying 112 is a reiteration of 87, which has been altered through the substitution of the term "soul" for a reiteration of "flesh." Both saying 11 and saying 111 are probably redactional expansions of the same traditional saying, as are Mark 13:31; Matt 5:18; Luke 16:17.]] In Gos. Thom. 77, discerning the light within the world is to discern Jesus; if Jesus is the living one, seeing the light within the world would be to see the body of the living one (sayings 52, 59). As I shall discuss below, Thomas does not advocate that people seek Jesus the person but rather that people seeking Jesus should seek the light and the kingdom of God. To find the body of Jesus, the living one, and to live from it is to find the light of the world and to live in that. Unless it is anachronistically expecting people to take heed of the historical Jesus, saying 59 presumes that you may "take heed of the living one while you are alive, lest you die and seek to see him and be unable to do so." Therefore the "living one" may be recognized during life in the world and one who does so will live from the living one as saying 111 advocates. [[There is no idea in Thomas of a "risen Christ," and ideas drawn from the conception as it is found in other NT texts are therefor not applicable.]]
For the Gospel of Thomas the light through which God created the world persists in the world and within people. Those aware of this may live now in the seventh day of Genesis. Those not aware of this live in the condition they were born to, the condition that has prevailed for historical humanity from the time of Adam (saying 85) to the time of John the Baptist (saying 46) and thereafter, for if one fails to actualize the possibility of bringing forth what is inherent in oneself, one dies (saying 70).
Accordingly, the world can be viewed from two perspectives, from the perspective of the beginning or from the ordinary perspective. One cannot logically do both simultaneously. Thus, "whoever finds the world and becomes rich" ceases being in "poverty" through apprehending the world as the kingdom of God and resumes an initial condition of power and wealth (saying 85), wealth which saying 29 equates with the Spirit. Such a one must "renounce the world" of poverty (saying 110). One cannot have it both ways.
The degree to which this renunciation is to govern social behaviors is debatable. "If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the kingdom" (saying 27) probably advocates avoiding the ordinary perspective on the world in favor of the preferred perspective. If fasting is of this intellectual variety, it means that one cannot hold two contradictory perspectives simultaneously. In other words, the world cannot be understood to be the kingdom and, at the same time, not to be the kingdom. Since fasting from food is disapproved twice (sayings 14, 104) and no ascetic praxis is otherwise recommended, fasting from the world must not be considered asceticism.
In summary, Thomas presents a dualism of perspectives and urges people to "seek and find" a new view of the world, a view it claims Jesus himself advocated and embodied. Insofar as the world in its perfect condition, the kingdom of heaven, is thought to be above, that conception of the world is to be applied to the world below: "make that which is above like that which is below" (saying 22). Yet the kingdom is not really a place above (saying 3) but a primordial time, a time that persists in the present. All things, all people came from it, for all were created as specified in Gen 1:1-2:4. All can return there now by actualizing primordial light within themselves and seeing that light spread throughout the world, thus making the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside (saying 22). To return to the kingdom one remains standing on the earth, but with an altered conception of it. The theme of a salvific or restorative return to the time of primordial mythic origins is, of course, a theme commonly encountered in religious throughout the world.
The Gospel of Thomas does not define Jesus' role by means of christological terminology. Few sayings directly discuss Jesus. Still, one may find a "Christology" of light in saying 77 and a "Christology" of wisdom in saying 28. These are compatible perspectives, but it is not the primary intent of Thomas to present them (contrast, for example, the Gospel of John). Rather, Jesus provides and validates the perspective on the world and on humanity advocated in Thomas, the presentation of which is Thomas's primary intent. When people ask Jesus to tell them who he is so that they might believe, his response shifts their concern to seeing what is before them and to recognizing the nature of the present time (saying 91). Jesus' message about the kingdom of God is Thomas's concern, not Jesus' message about Jesus.
Of course, one may conclude from the constant reiteration of "Jesus said" in the Gospel of Thomas that through his provision of information, Jesus made the realization of the kingdom possible. However, for Thomas an understanding of Jesus' words is not in and of itself salvific; one must adopt the perspective they advocate. Thus, while it is true prima facie that Jesus is to be known through his words, this fact is trivial; Jesus is properly to be known through doing what his words commend. People seek and find through their own effort, an effort including, but hardly restricted to, properly interpreting Jesus' sayings.
Insofar as Jesus may be identified with the kingdom in its aspect of light (saying 77), knowledge of Jesus entails discovery of the kingdom and vice versa. Adequate knowledge of Jesus apart from discovery of the kingdom is impossible.
To see through the light is to see the light in all things, which is to see Jesus, who is the light, in all things. The light within one and the light apprehended outside of one are the same, and a person who apprehends the light is "a man of light" (saying 24). Therefore, Thomas's most striking christological affirmation, "Jesus said: 'I am the light..." (saying 77) is perhaps not exclusive to Jesus; after all, anyone who apprehends the light and kingdom inside and outside is a son of the living father (saying 3) and the unisexual image of God (saying 22). [[That the primordial human is child of God is attested in, e.g., Luke 3:38.]]
Jesus is less the revealer than the revelation, less the one advocating a mode of apprehension than the apprehension itself. Accordingly, in Gos. Thom. 13 the disciple Thomas, who evidently apprehends correctly, is equivalent to, or at least not subordinated to, Jesus. Jesus declares to Thomas that he is not his master because "you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out." Gos. Thom. 108 shares this motif: "Jesus said, 'He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.'" To drink from Jesus' mouth may be to apprehend what Jesus' sayings mean (sayings 1, 2), but such understanding is not sufficient by itself. One must apprehend the kingdom within and upon the earth, the light within and outside; actualize the image of God inside and outside; and thus stand at the beginning.
In the context of Thomas the motif of drinking from Jesus may seem to imply that Jesus is a fount of wisdom whose wise sayings, when properly interpreted and understood (saying 1), lead to one's equivalence with him. One who learns wisdom from the wise man becomes in turn a wise man. But there is a problem with this approach; Gos. Thom. 13 provides as Matthew's response to Jesus' request "tell me who I am like" the following wrong answer: "You are like a wise philosopher" or "You are like a wise lover of wisdom." [[Simon Peter's wrong answer (saying 13) is "You are like a righteous aggelos," commonly translated "angel." But it might better be translated "messenger," in the sense of prophetic messenger; see, e.g., Mark 1:2, and cf. Mark 8:28ff, a passage parallel to Gos. Thom. 13, wherein the populace is said wrongly to believe that Jesus is one or another prophet.]] If Thomas contradicts such an explanation one should certainly be cautious in advancing it.
There is, however, an alternative way to understand the motif: to drink is to receive the Holy Spirit. According to John 7:37b-39a: "Jesus stood up and proclaimed,'If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, "Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water."' Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive." The scripture reference is probably to Isa 44:3 "For I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring." Paul also refers to drinking as a metaphor for reception of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:13), as well as referring rather enigmatically to a baptismal drinking from Christ (1 Cor 10:2-4). In Eph 5:18, as in saying 13, intoxication (presumably sobria ebrietas) is considered an acceptable metaphor for possession by the Spirit. Gos. Thom. 13 and 108, taken together, seem therefore to imply that Thomas has received the Spirit from Jesus rather than words of wisdom alone. [[Paul refers to spiritual circumcision (Rom 2:29) in a way reminiscent of the reference to "true circumcision in the Spirit" in Gos. Thom. 53. Whether the spirit Thomas describes as the "great wealth [that] established itself in this poverty" (saying 29) is to be understood as the human spirit or the divine Spirit is unclear; but, since the term spirit is used here equivalently with the term wealth, it is likely the divine Spirit is meant. See B. Gartner, The Theology of the Gospel According to Thomas (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961) for interesting connections between Gos. Thom. 13, 108 and the Odes of Solomon regarding the mouth of the Lord, the fountain of living water, the water of the Spirit and sober intoxication.]]
The idea of actualizing an inherent primordial light might seen different from the idea of receiving the Holy Spirit, but probably the former is the condition for the successful reception of the Spirit. Since the Spirit is present in primordial time (Gen 1:2) the Spirit will be an aspect of the condition of one who conceives himself to exist in reference to that time.
It is commonplace in early Christianity that a person who has received the Spirit is one to whom the things that are hidden will be revealed (see, e.g., 1 Cor 2:10-13 [1 Cor 2:9//Gos. Thom. 17]; John 14:26). Further, such a one is like Jesus (John 14:12-17) or, indeed, is one who may identify with Jesus (Gos. Thom. 108; cf. Gal 2:20). Gos. Thom. 13 and 108 seem, therefore, to state that through possession by the same Spirit individuals become equivalent to or identified with Jesus. At that time "things that are hidden will be revealed" (saying 108).
In Gos. Thom. 5, 6 the theme of hidden things revealed is stated in the future tense in reference to the disciples' questions "Do you want us to fast?" "How shall we pray?" "Shall we give alms?" and "What diet shall we observe?" However, their specific questions are ignored or evaded: "Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered." [[Matthew probably knew Gos. Thom. 6 (cf. Matt 6:1-8, 16-18); his injunctions regarding almsgiving, prayer, and fasting insist that one is not to lie - that is, be hypocritical - but to give alms, pray, and fast in secrecy; for what is thus hidden will be manifest before God. Were Matthew's admonitions regarding secrecy actually carried out in practice, those who did so would be presumed not to pray or to fast or to give alms. Perhaps Matthew was acquainted with Christians who denied doing any of these things, following the commands of Gos. Thom. 14a, but Matthew presumed that their denials stemmed from commendable modesty.]]
Later in the text, however, these questions are answered quite directly. In Gos. Thom. 13 Thomas, having proved to Jesus that he is in some fashion Jesus' equivalent or at least that he need no longer regard Jesus as his master, receives from Jesus three mysterious sayings so offensive that those hearing them would stone the speaker for blasphemy. The other disciples do not hear them, but we know what they are, or at least what a compiler of Thomas believed them to be. They are the first three commands of Gos. Thom. 14: Do not fast; do not pray; do not give alms. [[On formal and redaction critical grounds one can separate the first three special statements in Gos. Thom. 14a from the two synoptically paralleled sayings regarding eating and food which follow. If sayings 14b and 14c may be summarized to mean "Do not keep Torah regarding foods," then perhaps sayings 14a, 14b, 14c are the three mysterious sayings as the final redactor of Thomas conceived them. I believe, however, that at an earlier stage of the sayings tradition Gos. Thom. 14a stood alone after the conclusion of saying 13.]] From the Thomasine perspective, a person who stands at the beginning, who is the image of God, has no need to do any such things, for that person lives prior to sin (sayings 18, 19) and thus prior to any need to atone for sin (saying 104). These are the answers the disciples sought (saying 6) but were not worthy to find.
The casual implications in Gos. Thom. 14a are surprisingly Pauline: "If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits" (saying 14a). [[One ought not assume that the use of "Spirits" in the plural implies that each person has a different Spirit any more than one should assume this for 1 John 4:2. Thomas's reference to "circumcision in the Spirit" in saying 53 evidences a unitary conception. In the very early church the question of plurality or unity of Spirit/s was not settled; Paul insists on a unitary Spirit from God (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11) in writing to a congregation wherein the idea of a plurality of Spirits from God may have been predominant.]] If people have received the Spirit, which I argue is the meaning of the motif "drinking from Jesus," and if they stand at the beginning prior to any fall or any law, then to accept the necessity of religious obligations will be to act in a fashion contradictory to their professed primordial condition. Indeed, for Thomas, and perhaps also for Paul, to accept the necessity of obedience to religious requisites will give rise to sin. To put it more simply, those who are without sin should behave accordingly.
If Thomas concludes that those who have received the Spirit are in the condition of the beginning, and Paul conceives the condition of the new creation to be the reestablishment of the first creation, then both Thomas and Paul draw inferences vis-v-vis religious law on similar grounds. Neither for Thomas nor for Paul are those who are in the condition of the image of God subject to the law. [["If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the kingdom. If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath, you will not see the Father" (Gos. Thom. 27) refers to Gen 2:2-3, which is the condition of the primordial time, not an ordinance. Fasting as regards the world refers to the necessity of conceiving the world to be in the condition of the primordial time (i.e., the Sabbath) rather than conceiving of it in an ordinary fashion. It is not fasting in the sense of asceticism (sayings 14, 104).]]
Paul may argue in 1 Corinthians against certain persons who held a Thomasine perspective. [[See Davies, Christian Wisdom, 138-45; and Patterson, Q Thomas Reader, 112-14.]] Of course, the crucifixion is crucial to Paul and irrelevant to Thomas and the kingdom is yet fully to come for Paul but present now for Thomas. Nevertheless, even such substantial differences should not obscure the points of agreement between them. Both may agree that the kingdom of God is the establishment in the world of the condition of the image of God in the primordial time of creation, and that is no small matter.
To return to consideration of Thomas's Christology, we find that specifically christological concerns are identified mainly with Jesus' disciples. Gos. Thom. 24 presents the disciples as asking Jesus' place; the response shifts attention to the place of light within people and the world. In Gos. Thom. 37 the disciples seek the revelation of Jesus himself; the response shifts attention to the necessity of people acting so as to see the son of the living one which, in the context of saying 3, is likely to refer to discovery of their own nature.
The disciples in Thomas, with the exception of James (who is perhaps not a disciple) in saying 12 and Thomas in saying 13, are examples of people who misunderstand (sayings 3?, 18, 22, 37, 51, 52, 91?, 113). Accordingly, when Gos. Thom. 21 provides Jesus' answer to the question "Whom are your disciples like?" it implies a response to the question "Whom are those who do not comprehend like?" They are like children standing in a field, etc., children who are soon contrasted unfavorably to nursing infants (saying 22), whom we have been told are seven days old (saying 4). The disciples are "children" in Gos. Thom. 21 who in saying 22 are informed that they must become "infants." The owner of the field of saying 21 must be, therefore, one who understands correctly ("Let there be among you a man of understanding"), for what is his has been stolen by the children. Gos. Thom. 21 continues with a twofold warning against thieves: the owner of the field is not the thief; the children (i.e., disciples) are, and the owner of the field will harvest it. Possibly we are to imagine children dressing up or costuming themselves to pretend to possess a field that is not theirs. [[Gos. Thom. 37 refers affirmatively to the act of disrobing and seems similar to the incipit of saying 22. Perhaps they are variants of the same original, but the contexts are opposite and one ought not jump to the conclusion that the two reiterate one theme.]] According to Gos. Thom. 21 Jesus' disciples are to be regarded as thieves, but of what? As other references to disciples contend against their inaccurate points of view, they must be thieves of Jesus' message, substituting for it false conceptions of Jesus (saying 13) and misleading anticipation of a kingdom to arrive in the future (sayings 18, 113), a kingdom supposedly located now in the heavens or across the sea (saying 3). Thomas evidently knows of christocentric eschatological traditions carried forward in the name of Jesus' disciples and seeks to undermine those traditions by corrective question-response passages. Gos. Thom. 51 provides a particularly clear example: "His disciples said to him, 'When will the repose of the dead come about, and when will the new world come?' He said to them, 'What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it.'" Further, christological investigation of the scriptures is actually condemned in saying 52. In Gos. Thom. 91 when they ask to know who Jesus is, they are encouraged rather to know what is in front of them and to know the nature of the present time. Discovery of the true nature of the world and oneself is the goal commended in Thomas. This evidently entails the discovery of Jesus, but such discovery is not the goal itself.
In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus initiates a new possibility for humanity (sayings 17, 46). As such he is incarnate (sarx, saying 28) wisdom, and the light from which all things come (saying 77). Perhaps he is uniquely so, as sayings 28 and 77 imply, but more likely he is the firstfruits of those that follow, as sayings 13 and 108 imply. People can actualize the light, comprehend the kingdom, restore God's image, know themselves to be sons of the living father, and dwell in the beginning. As a result, how those who have accomplished these things will differ from Jesus is difficult to comprehend, but the problem is not unique to Thomas. How those who are one person in Christ, having the mind, Spirit, body, life, and death of Christ will differ from Christ is difficult to comprehend in Paul's thought as well.
Whereas the canonical Gospels focus largely on christological concerns, such concerns in Thomas are secondary, if not misguided. This is logically entailed in Thomas's overall perspective. If one discovers oneself actually and other people potentially to possess the light and to be the image of God, one thereby discovers also what Jesus is. The quest to determine what Jesus is apart from discovery of what one is oneself cannot succeed any more than can the quest to discover the light apart from one's own illumination of the world.
The perspectives of the Gospel of Thomas discussed above may be summarized into the following propositions:
Although it is valuable to know how and to what extent the perspectives of Thomas correlate with perspectives contemporary with it, it is not my purpose to investigate them in a thoroughgoing fashion in this essay. Nevertheless, a variety of correlations come immediately to mind. To begin with, Robin Scroggs observes that the idea of an end that is a return to the beginning was well known in the first century:
In Scroggs's opinion, Paul shares this perspective: "Paul assumes here [1 Cor. 7:31] the basic Jewish division into two aeons, this age and the age to come. But since the world to come is a new creation, it is apparent that Paul has accepted the Urzeit-Endzeit formulation so characteristic of his day." [[Ibid., 62.]] The compiler of Thomas thought in terms of an Urzeit-Endzeit formulation similar to the formulation influencing Pauline thought. In contrast to Paul, who usually maintained a future orientation, Thomas's perspective is actualized (or realized) eschatology. What some apocalyptists presumed would be true in the days of the Messiah, that those living would resume the condition of pre- lapsarian Adam, is true for Thomas now.
Although Thomas certainly accepts the Urzeit-Endzeit formulation (it is stated unambiguously in saying 18), it is not Thomas's purpose to define clearly this ideal state. A classic definition of the state exists in Gen 1:1-2:4, and Thomas evidently anticipates that readers will be familiar with it.
Another connection to contemporary perspectives is that between ideas encountered in Thomas and in the thought of Philo of Alexandria. To claim as Thomas does that the world was created through the light of the beginning, from which nothing is severed and through which the human mind can comprehend its true nature as God's image, is to speak in a manner similar to Philo, to whom the close relationship of that light and the logos was self-evident. Similarly, Thomas and Philo seem to share the perspective that the essence of God remains concealed but it may be apprehended, as an image, in the intelligible and the sensible universe.
Thomas Tobin notes that Philo believes that "invisible and intelligible light has come into being as an image of the Divine Word" and concludes that "the intelligible light, then is closely associated with the divine logos; indeed it is the image of that logos." [[T.H. Tobin, "The Prologue of John and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation," CBQ 52 (1990) 263.]] He observes that such speculations originate in Hellenistic Judaism:
Reading Thomas's term "light" as the equivalent of logos enables one to see that Thomas interprets Genesis 1-2 in many of the same ways as do Philo and the prologue's author. And, after all, light is the term Genesis itself uses to describe the beginning of the beginning. The primacy of the term logos presupposes more speculative philosophical consideration of the Genesis text. On the first day all that exists is light and, from Thomas's perspective, that light never departs. Thomas's sayings 24 and 77, if expressed in terms of logos, declare that the logos is that from which all things come and to which all things extend. The logos is immanent in the world and within the human person. Through the logos within oneself, one should apprehend the logos within the world (sayings 3, 22) and thereby one may be known to be a child of God (saying 3).
Certainly Philo conceived of the logos of God in relation to light; the Thomasine use of light as a primary category of Genesis exegesis is no new invention. [[See E.R. Goodenough, By Light, Light: The Mystic Gospel of Hellenistic Judaism (Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1969).]] But because Thomas is a collection of short sayings diverse in vocabulary and origin, technical philosophical inquiry into whether Thomas's light is itself the logos or is a reflection of the logos may not succeed. A similar problem exists for John. If Jesus is the logos and Jesus is the light, the question of whether or not the logos should be equated with light or conceived to be the "basis" of light may be technically unanswerable. The propositions of philosophers may sometimes resemble the formulations of evangelists, but the two cannot be analyzed in the same way.
In statements that are applicable to Thomas, Ernst Kasemann writes of the connection between eschatology and protology in the Gospel of John:
I previously have argued that the Gospel of Thomas should be viewed as a text deriving its special ideas in the main from the wisdom tradition. [[Ibid.]] This continues to be my position, and J.D. Crossan has nicely summarized it: "The Gospel of Thomas is what Jewish wisdom theology looks like after it has heard Jesus' message about the kingdom of God." [[J.D. Crossan, Four Other Gospels (Minneapolis: Winston, 1985) 34.]] But "wisdom tradition" may be an overly general term. For example, Thomas and Q are both commonly categorized within the genre logoi sophon, sayings of the wise. I wonder if it would not be better to say that Thomas derives from Hellenistic Judaism, which, of course, derived principal ideas from the broad wisdom tradition. Then the Gospel of Thomas would be a text of christianized Hellenistic Judaism, sharing with such authors as Philo and Aristobulus various principal themes and approaches, especially a similar approach to the exegesis of Genesis 1-2. Both Thomas and Q are attempts to contextualize traditional sayings of Jesus through first- century Jewish-Christian perspectives. The Gospel of Thomas is to Christian Hellenistic Judaism what Q is to Christian apocalyptic Judaism.
"The Christology and Protology of the Gospel of Thomas"
by Stevan L. Davies
Journal of Biblical Literature Volume 111, Number 4, Winter 1992
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