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.
After-afterthought: Jesus' "kissing her on the lips" might well symbolize giving her "a gift of prophecy" ala Miriam. "She [and her followers?] got it; and your guys didn't!"
If the rest of the Gospel of Thomas is as wordy as cited above I am thankful it wasn't included in the approved canon, especially since I use the King James version. One of the great things about the Bible is it's conciseness. Obviously it was not edited by a lawyer.
I appreciate the experienced fellowship when reading the Gospel of Thomas. To know there are and were others who know that direct experience of identity in and with unrepresented Presence in the conscious and conscience to such a degree that, even though male or female in the bodily nature, they are in a life, a consciousness, not anchored in or defined by male nor female, blesses me each day. There are those of us who know the enduring treasure within us in all things and circumstance. This enduring treasure cannot be devoured moths or destroyed by worms. By the power of the inward Light the wood is cleaved and the stone lifted. And, in doing so, our conscious and conscience experiences the shattering of the wood and the throwing away of the stone and the Light itself takes its rightful place; replacing the wood and stone. For these things and much more I am thankful for the Gospel of Thomas.
I tried to find more information on the Internet about the Gospel of Thomas and some of Howard Brod's claims concerning it. The site that, IMHO, most directly addresses Howard's claims is: https://carm.org/does-the-gospel-of-thomas-belong-in-the-new-testament
The writer comments that "The Gospel of Thomas--as we shall see--is not 'The Fifth Gospel' or an earlier or more reliable source for Jesus than the New Testament Gospels which were written in the first century sometime between A.D. 55-100." He doesn't simply generalize about the book, but speaks to very specific issues concerning the date of this document and what it teaches.
I checked out some other sources, especially from the Reader's Digest series on the Bible, prepared by leading scholars in the field of Biblical Studies. I found NO evidence that these scholars regard the Gospel of Thomas as being on the same level of credibility or historicity as the canonical gospels.
Hello William. Have you also read the Gospel of Thomas in the power and presence of the immediacy of the inward Light in your conscience? Did you find fellowship with the words written?
I have read only a few short excerpts from the Gospel of Thomas. What I have read so far doesn't encourage me to explore Thomas further. In my mind, it falls into the same category as the Book of Mormon, which I also don't feel motivated to read!
Hello William. That is what I suspected. I appreciate your confirmation and your honesty.
A comment to Keith: I have read Thomas in the power and presence (if I understand you correctly). And I find that it obscures that sense of presence. As a strongly anti-female document, it offers a view that the kingdom of heaven belongs to an exclusive club. This is also in keeping with its elitism, which is expressed in the opening statement. I think this is very far from the understanding and experience of the universal grace of the inner light that the Quaker tradition highlights.
William: One of the big differences between Thomas and the traditional Gospels is that Thomas has no narrative; it is simply a collection of sayings. The traditional Gospels invite the reader to embody the narrative of Jesus in their own lives. Thomas, in contrast, is disembodied, cerebral, and oracular in nature. It is not an open invitation; rather it closes the door to ordinary people.
I understand the appeal of Thomas. For many years I was attracted to it. It makes you feel special, like some kind of initiate. It took me a long time to realize that this kind of appeal is actually what is wrong with it.
Hello Jim. I appreciate fragments of the Gospel of Thomas obscures Presence within you and that your outward intellectual assumptions concerning that the fragments as anti-female and elitist color or shadow your posture toward the fragments. As you know, these are fragments and drawing conclusions such as your's is risky at best and suggests a deeper agenda. You aspire to labels and labeling. However, they are your labels and labeling. For many of us, our experience is far from "disembodied," "cerebral" and "oracular" in nature. The experience is explicitly open to all people and many of us find that same experience shared in fragments. I agree, being in experiential fellowship with the words that make up fragments is a powerful. It took me a long time to realize that is actually what is right with it. I encourage everyone to read the fragments for themselves and take them or leave them as their conscience speaks. As for me, the fragments are like the bible. I read and fellowship with them often in the power and Presence of the inward Light itself anchoring my conscience and informing my conscience. The power of Presence itself is my teacher and guide. Outward documents are friends that I read in the Light, they are not the source of Light.
I read Thomas in the same contextual manner that I read the four gospels in the Bible; and in doing so, I see no difference in substance. I do not read the spirit of its message as anti-female any more than the New Testament could be taken as anti-female if its words are read literally and without consideration of the context, as well as the culture it is addressing. I have heard women who are versed in both the books of the New Testament and the Gospel of Thomas speak glowingly of the Gospel of Thomas; and yet, speak of the New Testament as being anti-female. So, I guess that it is all in the eye of the beholder. As I said, I personally see no difference in tone.
Likewise, if you do not also perceive the New Testament as elitist, favoring the "chosen"; then I fear you are not being objective. The 'New Covenant' was an extension of the elitism professed by the Jewish people throughout the Old Testament.
I have never felt "elite" when reading the Gospel of Thomas or the other gospels. Rather, I understand that all of those ancient authors were products of their own culture. And I recognize that fact, and have simply felt drawn to a beautiful, loving spiritual reality that I share with them.
I have concluded long ago that our perceptions of the exact same 'form' can vary widely depending on our own hearts and minds. To quote a modern spiritual work:
"Perception selects, and makes the world you see. It literally picks it out as the mind directs. For what you look for you are far more likely to discover than what you would prefer to overlook. Perception is a choice of what you want yourself to be; the world you want to live in, and the state in which you think your mind will be content and satisfied. It chooses where you think your safety lies, at your decision. It reveals yourself to you as you would have you be. And always is it faithful to your purpose."
This is why our spiritual unity must not be based on forms or factions or words or books or doctrines. The divine and his power within us simply IS. She/he is our Source. It's manifestation is the fruits of the Spirit among us. It is not manifested through what spiritual works we choose to put our faith in. And we are all called to recognize this power deep within our own hearts so that we may honor it, live it, and bring it into awareness within others.
I have wondered how to respond to Keith and Howard's last posts. I have placed it in silence and offer the following observations.
Keith, you have already stated, on another thread, that you consider your view to be more clear, and more accurate, than others. I would suggest for your consideration that this attitude creates a barrier to your interaction with others. For example, you interpret my comments regarding Thomas as the result of 'outward intellectual assumptions', but you do not own your own outward intellectual assumptions and how they impact your understanding. From my perspective that is at least ungenerous.
For Keith and Howard, what I am experiencing is a kind of evasion on your parts. It works like this: you post a statement asserting a certain view. For example, that Thomas is the Fifth Gospel, or that the Gospel's were all written around 100 A.D. Then if I, or someone else, posts contrary interpretations or evidence, you don't really engage or have a discussion. Instead you assert that if someone sees this from the perspective of presence, or inner light, then they will understand that you are right. It is a kind of subtle evasion. It allows you to disregard contrary views and disengage from a genuine conversation over these issues.
I believe it is possible for two people to be equally grounded in presence and the inner light and, at the same time, to disagree with each other. The experience of presence does not mean that all who have that experience will agree on matters of faith and practice, or secular matters such as politics or what is the correct diet. To argue that someone who disagrees with me does so because they have not experienced the Presence of God in their lives is to elevate one's own opinions to the level of dogma. Personally, I don't think that is a good idea.
'both grounded yet disagreeing' brought to mind a good Talmud quote I just blundered upon:
"Any controversy waged in the service of God shall in the end be of lasting worth; but any that is not shall in the end lead to no permanent result."