Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What About the Gospel of Thomas?

Ever since 1999 when the movie Stigmata came out, there has been much controversy over a book known as The Gospel of Thomas. In the movie the Catholic church was portrayed as trying to hide this book by labeling it a heresy because if people found out about its existence chaos would break out. In turn, many people I’ve met have automatically assumed this book is legitimate and accept it as such. So what’s the deal? Does the Gospel of Thomas belong in Bible? If no, than why not? Let’s take a look.

I find it ironic that most, if not all of the people I talk to that defend this book have never read it for themselves. I firmly believe that anyone who actually takes the time to read it will most assuredly come to the conclusion that it has absolutely no business being placed in the Bible. In the interest of fairness, I have provided a link for you to check it out for yourself. To read the actual Gospel of Thomas Click Here. The Gospel is only 114 verses long and can be read in about 10 minutes. I’ll go ahead and wait here until you’re done.

While some are reading the text for themselves, I’ll go ahead and give some background information for those who elected not to. The Gospel of Thomas doesn’t read like a real Biblical Gospel. That is, instead of reading in story-like fashion, it is a collection of Jesus’ alleged sayings. They are then presented independently much like the book of Proverbs. The book is very confusing. It has an eastern philosophical sound to it along with heavy Gnostic concepts. If you don’t know what a Gnostic concept is I’d encourage you to stop here and read my last post (What is Gnosticism? posted on December 16, 2004)

The Gospel of Thomas was found in 1945 at a dig known as Nag Hammadi. The text was found in a collection with other known Gnostic documents. The author of the book is unknown and no Scholar I know of thinks Thomas the disciple actually wrote it. It is important to note that because the book doesn’t list any historical events (such as in a narrative) we cannot independently verify its validity. That is, we cannot prove that the sayings are legitimately from Jesus.

Although we only have fragments of the Gospel of Thomas dating to 200 AD, most Scholars think the book was written between 100 and 150 AD. Seems like quite the coincidence that this time frame occurred during the high point of Gnosticism. The document found at Nag Hammadi is the ONLY complete document we have of the book and it was written in Coptic. This is significant for two reasons. First, the original was most likely written in Greek and secondly, the Nag Hammadi document dates to about 350 AD. So, quickly recapping, we have only one complete document, written 200 hundred years after the original was written, in a language other than the original language, and we have no way to independently verify the historical accuracy of Jesus’ sayings. So far this isn’t looking good for those who advocate the legitimacy of the book but let’s continue on to look at what the text actually says.

True to Gnostic belief in “special knowledge”, the Gospel of Thomas takes several stories found in the Bible and twists them to either add or change components within. For example, in Matthew 22:21 Jesus says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” However, according to the Gospel of Thomas in verse 100 it reads “They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, "The Roman emperor's people demand taxes from us." He said to them, "Give the emperor what belongs to the emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine.” See how the author of the book completely misses the point Jesus is trying to make, and adds “special knowledge” to extend Jesus’ statement.

The author of the Gospel of Thomas apparently has quite a bit of this special knowledge. In 1st Corinthians 2:9 the Apostle Paul writes “but just as it is written, "Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him." Now compare this with the Gospel of Thomas verse 17 “Jesus said, "I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart." These two passages seem much too similar to be a mere coincidence. So who actually said it? The Apostle Paul, from which we have much evidence, or Jesus as quoted from the Gospel of Thomas from which we have virtually no evidence?

The following is a compilation of just a few of my favorite quotes from the Gospel of Thomas. I have cited their verse references for you to check it out for yourself. Some of these are amusing and others are just downright confusing. Regardless of which, it is important to remember that Jesus always taught in parables, and never in soundbites.

7 Jesus said, "Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human."

14 Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits…

105 Jesus said, "Whoever knows the father and the mother will be called the child of a whore."

112 Jesus said, "Damn the flesh that depends on the soul. Damn the soul that depends on the flesh."

86 Jesus said, "[Foxes have] their dens and birds have their nests, but human beings have no place to lay down and rest."

And my personal favorite…….

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."

As we have seen the Gospel of Thomas is a very different book from any book found in the Bible. As addressed in previous posts the books of the Bible were very carefully put together after passing stringent criteria. The Gospel of Thomas meets none of those criteria. In an effort to grab power, Gnostics put their own spin on Jesus words and recorded them in this text. As stated before, we have only one complete document dating from 200 years after the original was written and it is in a foreign language. As if that weren’t bad enough, we have no way to verify its claims. In conclusion I hope you can clearly see that one can argue that either the New Testament or the Gospel of Thomas or neither of the two accurately depicts the person of Jesus, but one cannot argue that both the New Testament AND the Gospel of Thomas together accurately portray him

No comments: