Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Although the Gospel of Thomas was not included in the canonized collection of Christian writings that were selected during the third and fourth centuries to make up the New Testament, it is revered by many today as an accurate rendition of the spirituality of Jesus. Within this very early collection of Jesus’ sayings, he speaks to his inner circle of disciples with mystical and metaphorical language. Commentators generally summarize these sayings as indicating “the Kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth now; and that there is divine light within all people, a light that enables them to experience the Kingdom of God upon the earth”. Commentators also generally recognize that the implication of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of Thomas is that “people have the potential to be as Jesus is, to be a child of God, and therefore from that perspective Jesus is not a uniquely divine person but a role model for all people”.
Therefore, it is understandable when reading these sayings of Jesus, like the one from verse 22 (below), why the third and fourth century church chose not to include the Gospel of Thomas in its canonized Bible books to be read by the church faithful.
What do you think Jesus was trying to convey through these particular words in verse 22, below?
Jesus saw some infants who were being suckled. He said to his disciples: These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom of God. They said to him: If we then become children, shall we enter the kingdom? Jesus said to them: When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper as the lower, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male is not male and the female not female, and when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then shall you enter the kingdom of God.
Although many scholars think that the form of certain sayings in 'Thomas' is older than the form of different versions in other gospels, this doesn't make it any more (or less) 'an accurate rendition of the spirituality of Jesus than 'John', which likewise seems to be more of a "what we got from Jesus' teaching" piece of fiction reflecting the concerns and the ideas of later generations.
"Earlier" -- even if these were reduced to writing earlier, which is doubtful -- does not imply "more accurate."
Since 'Thomas' calls his material 'words of the living Jesus' these sayings would be either Jesus' posthumous afterthoughts or channeled material... Which to me comes down to "Take these for whatever they're worth," a test I apply also to such sayings in canonical gospels. [It's looking more & more, as we learn more about oral culture and how it's preserved, that what was passed along orally was not so much "sayings" as a group's sense of certain complete discourses, probably more easily distorted after they'd been written down and started taking on an authority beyond ~'the way we've always heard it.']
How about: ~"When you stop getting hung up on so many silly distinctions and can see things as they simply are, then you can live fully under God's jurisdiction." ?
Thanks Forrest. Your comments are VERY good and appreciated.
One of the things I love about liberal Quakers is that they tend to grasp the Spirit of 'sacred writings' rather than getting hung up on the words or the concept of inerrancy. In that vein, the Gospel of Thomas is a fascinating read.
Has anyone ever heard or read of this verse in the Gospel of Thomas being used as an implication that Jesus would not be hung up on homosexuality or transgenderism if it had been raised as an issue in his day? Aside from this verse, it appears that other sayings/teachings of Jesus don't really speak to the matter.
A few observations: Most scholars do not 'revere' Thomas as an accurate rendering of the teachings of Jesus. The scholarly consensus is that it is a late creation (about 125 to 175), totally dependent on the four traditional Gospels, with a smattering of gnostic views tossed in. There is no archaeological or textual evidence for Thomas being early; in fact it is the opposite.
If you combine 22 with the last saying 114, then saying 22 is a prelude to the conclusion, which is that in order to get into Heaven you have to be a guy. Gnosticism is profoundly, and essential, anti-female and Thomas is a clear example of that bias.
There's confusion inherent in thinking of gospels as if they were modern books. There isn't, never was, a first edition Thomas with copyright date & like that.
There were certain more-or-less sacred & enlightening literary chunks ranging in size from 'sayings' to complete stories, discourses, whole gospels -- oral chunks influencing what got put into writing, what had been written influencing what circulated orally, all of it not quite fluid & not quite solid for quite awhile back then.
'Thomas' was popular with gnostics, went on the banned list along with the definitely gnostic books found hidden with it in that Egyptian churchyard, but isn't specifically 'Gnostic'. Some of the sayings in it are supposed to be quite early in form -- but could obviously have been included in a later book along with stuff taken from 'the four traditional gospels' and that 'smattering' of possibly-gnostic material.
I don't know about 'revering' any text as if it had been born fully-formed from the head of Jesus... but the sayings here have at least as much claim to consideration as any of 'John's works of ventriloquism. In both cases you had people taking genuine material and extending it based on how they'd understood Jesus' meaning; and much of 'John' is certainly profoundly enlightening.
Jim, from my research over many years (but I am not a Bible scholar by any means), Forrest is correct in the development of the Gospel of Thomas as well as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is generally thought that all five were originally written around 100 A.D. give or take a decade or two. Of course, there are earlier outlier datings - one of those for Thomas is as early as 40-50 A.D. - similar to an outlier early dating of Mark. Still all five of these gospels had revisions, additions, and changes at least until 250 A.D. (possibly later) to "fit" certain traditions or beliefs about Jesus, as well as for the purpose of presenting a "storyline" within a particular gospel depending on its assumed audience.
Generally, verse 114 is not viewed as being linked to verse 22. Verse 114 is addressing an obvious jealousy over Mary's value that Jesus places on her. Generally, the early church was big on there being no gender in heaven - which meant to them, females would "become male". Yet, verse 22 is directly addressing what to do NOW in order to experience the kingdom of God. As Forrest suggests it appears to be addressing the distinctions that we humans tend to think are so important. Unlike verse 114, verse 22 is not saying a female should become a male (no doubt stated by Jesus in 114 to eliminate that jab that Mary is a woman and shouldn't be so valued by Jesus). It is attempting to get us to see past the physical and only concentrate on the spiritual as of real importance when pleasing God.
So, my question remains: Has anyone ever heard or read of this verse in the Gospel of Thomas being used as an implication that Jesus would not be hung up on homosexuality or transgenderism if it had been raised as an issue in his day?
Incidentally, although the Gospel of Thomas was used by Gnostics, there is general thought that it was not originated by Gnostics. Because it was originally found with Gnostic writings, it was at first thought to be of Gnostic origin. But that view is now somewhat outdated.
It certainly could have been "tweaked" by Gnostics (since it was found among their "stash") as are all the gospels "tweaked" in order to slant oral tradition and source writings to fit their view of things; i.e., the final writer's perception. As Forrest alluded to, writing was slanted back then to fit a perception - much like the writings by all of us are done here in QuakerQuaker.org :-) There was no sensibility for copywriting.
That's why quoting a verse to prove a point is probably futile and possibly misleading. Best to read what you are moved to read, then go into good old Quaker silence, experience the divine, and finally let the divine motivate you to mind the Light in your life.
There was also the bit in some gnostic gospels about the male disciples being jealous of Mary M, that they couldn't figure out why he liked to kiss her on the mouth but never kissed them that way...
Does it strike you that the gnostics weren't above poking a little fun at people whom other church factions held up as the source of their authority? -- probably because women were accepted as leaders in the church during Paul's time, but were increasingly disparaged as the organization got increasingly tightly structured & more Hellenistic.
That poking fun of "church authority" sounds a bit like liberal Quakers! I'll have to be more careful about that!
I hope everyone is enjoying their evening before Thanksgiving.
Howard, I'm not sure where you got the idea that all 'five' gospels were written about 100; that does not mesh with what I have read. My feeling is that there is no common consensus regarding the dating of the Gospels. Rather there is a range of opinions as I mentioned in another post. There are competent scholars backing up different opinions and new ones being offered on a regular basis.
Personally, I lean towards an early dating (most of the NT written before 70 AD) because it is consistent with the historical reporting of people like Eusebius. There is a tendency among modern scholars to dismiss the earliest historical reports because they were Christians; and I agree that this should be weighed into the mix. However, modern scholars are just as biased by their own academic and secular prejudices; that is to say they are at least as biased. In any case, we cannot settle such things here. I only bring up these other views because you have a tendency to state an opinion about dating and gospel authenticity that, in my experience, is not really a consensus; rather it is simply one possibility among many. I'm not saying your view is without evidence, I'm suggesting that other views are equally evidentially based.
I started out years ago with a very positive view of Thomas but over the years I changed my mind. I think it is implicitly anti-Jewish, definitively anti-female, and elitist (among other things), and militantly anti-mystical. But that's just me. I understand that others view Thomas differently and that they have good reasons for doing so.
For those interested in the status of Tomas I recommend "Tomas and the Gospels -- The Case for Thomas's Familiarity with the Synoptics" by Mark Goodacre which presents a case for the dependence of Thomas on the traditional Gospels, and therefore a late dating. (Goodacre, by the way, is not an Evangelical or Fundamentalist.) Also helpful is "John and Thomas -- Gospels in Conflict?" by Christopher Skinner which questions some of the conclusions that Elaine Pagels reached in her studies of Thomas. There are a wide variety of opinions out there, which is a good thing.
Again, personally I think Thomas is thematically intimately reflective of Gnostic views, particularly in its elitism and implicit anti-Judaism.
Finally, again for those who are interested, I suggest reading the essay by Plotinus titled "Against the Gnostics". Plotinus was a Pagan, not a Christian; therefore there is no sectarian motivation in his critique. What is fascinating is that Plotinus notices the same deficiencies in Gnosticism that Christian critics note, but from a more philosophical perspective.
I enjoy having discussions with you, and others, regarding the status and history of these works. I mean no disrespect of your views; I'm simply offering an alternative account.
Wishing everyone a fine and Friendly Thanksgiving.
Thanks for the information, Jim. The normalized dating that I have read from multiple sources doesn't square with what you have accepted. But I am sure we both are attempting to be open - there is just so many sources and this is all a constantly moving target.
There certainly is a mixed bag out there regarding the canonized books and those that were not. I suspect there is great value in all of them to glean, as well as great "trash". This is just like everything else in our human existence.
And all this (for me) is just further testimony that we should ultimately rely on our own internal experience with the Light after filling our heads with all this stuff from the Bible and otherwise. It would be a very sad state indeed, as well as a sad commentary on God, if we were required to use intellectual reasoning from others and our own faulty mental perceptions in order to know the divine.
In the end (and beginning) what we are called to is that divine Love and Light.
About that poking-fun idea I'd had... It looks more likely, on second thought -- although a combination of reverence & humor is common enough in Jewish religious debate -- that we get proto-orthodox gospels attributed to various male disciples. "~This is what we heard from so-&-so who heard what he told all his buddies."
What's a poor gnostic to do, if his intuition tells him the church's organization men have missed something important: "~Oh, well we got our traditions from Mary M, who was much closer, & heard what he whispered to her alone..."
Much of the gnostic stuff is at least as party-line, in it's own way, as the proto-orthodox writings.
~"People keep naturally turning Gnosis into gnosticisms." (Each religious movement subsequently ossifies experienced Truth into new dogmas. LiberalFriendists take heed!) So we get a mix from the gnostics [what little can still be pasted together, despite considerable "..." & "[blah-blah]" in the gaps],
but much of it -- like their insistence that ~You really can't Get Saved by rote theological beliefs, but need to know God directly! -- was a necessary corrective, suppressed for a time, to the organizational Church's reliance on obedience to the leaders & belief in the organization's rituals & dogmas.