Gospel of Thomas

For the infancy gospel, see Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel According to Thomas is an early Christian non-canonical sayings-gospel that many scholars believe provides insight into the oral gospel traditions. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945 among a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. Scholars speculate that the works were buried in response to a letter from Bishop Athanasius declaring a strict canon of Christian scripture.[1]

The Coptic-language text, the second of seven contained in what modern-day scholars have designated as Codex II, is composed of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus.[2] Almost half of these sayings resemble those found in the Canonical Gospels, while it is speculated that the other sayings were added from Gnostic tradition.[3] Its place of origin may have been Syria, where Thomasine traditions were strong.[4]

The introduction states: "These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down."[5] Didymus (Greek) and Thomas (Aramaic) both mean "twin". Some critical scholars suspect that this reference to the Apostle Thomas is false, and that therefore the true author is unknown.[6]

It is possible that the document originated within a school of early Christians, possibly proto-Gnostics.[7] Some critics further state that even the description of Thomas as a "gnostic" gospel is based upon little other than the fact that it was found along with gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi.[8] The name of Thomas was also attached to the Book of Thomas the Contender, which was also in Nag Hammadi Codex II, and the Acts of Thomas. While the Gospel of Thomas does not directly point to Jesus' divinity, it also does not directly contradict it, and therefore neither supports nor contradicts gnostic beliefs. When asked his identity in the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus usually deflects, ambiguously asking the disciples why they do not see what is right in front of them, similar to some passages in the canonical gospels like John 12:16 and Luke 18:34.

The Gospel of Thomas is very different in tone and structure from other New Testament apocrypha and the four Canonical Gospels. Unlike the canonical Gospels, it is not a narrative account of the life of Jesus; instead, it consists of logia (sayings) attributed to Jesus, sometimes stand-alone, sometimes embedded in short dialogues or parables. The text contains a possible allusion to the death of Jesus in logion 65[9] (Parable of the Wicked Tenants, paralleled in the Synoptic Gospels), but doesn't mention his crucifixion, his resurrection, or the final judgment; nor does it mention a messianic understanding of Jesus.[10][11] Since its discovery, many scholars have seen it as evidence in support of the existence of the so-called Q source, which might have been very similar in its form as a collection of sayings of Jesus without any accounts of his deeds or his life and death, a so-called "sayings gospel".[12]

Bishop Eusebius (AD 260/265 – 339/340) included it among a group of books that he believed to be not only spurious, but "the fictions of heretics". However, it is not clear whether he was referring to this Gospel of Thomas or one of the other texts attributed to Thomas.[13]

Finds and publication

P. Oxy. 1
Nag Hammadi Codex II, folio 32, the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas

The manuscript of the Coptic text (CG II), found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, is dated at around 340 AD. It was first published in a photographic edition in 1956.[14] This was followed three years later (1959) by the first English-language translation, with Coptic transcription.[15] In 1977, James M. Robinson edited the first complete collection of English translations of the Nag Hammadi texts.[16] The Gospel of Thomas has been translated and annotated worldwide in many languages.

The original Coptic manuscript is now the property of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Egypt, Department of Manuscripts.[17]

Oxyrhynchus papyrus fragments

After the Coptic version of the complete text was discovered in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, scholars soon realized that three different Greek text fragments previously found at Oxyrhynchus (the Oxyrhynchus Papyri), also in Egypt, were part of the Gospel of Thomas.[18][19] These three papyrus fragments of Thomas date to between 130 and 250 AD. Prior to the Nag Hammadi library discovery, the sayings of Jesus found in Oxyrhynchus were known simply as Logia Iesu. The corresponding Uncial script Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas, found in Oxyrhynchus are:

The wording of the Coptic sometimes differs markedly from the earlier Greek Oxyrhynchus texts, the extreme case being that the last portion of logion 30 in the Greek is found at the end of logion 77 in the Coptic. This fact, along with the quite different wording Hippolytus uses when apparently quoting it (see below), suggests that the Gospel of Thomas "may have circulated in more than one form and passed through several stages of redaction."[22]

Although it is generally thought that the Gospel of Thomas was first composed in Greek, there is evidence that the Coptic Nag Hammadi text is a translation from Syriac (see Syriac origin).


The earliest surviving written references to the Gospel of Thomas are found in the writings of Hippolytus of Rome (c. 222–235) and Origen of Alexandria (c. 233).[23] Hippolytus wrote in his Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20:

[The Naassenes] speak...of a nature which is both hidden and revealed at the same time and which they call the thought-for kingdom of heaven which is in a human being. They transmit a tradition concerning this in the Gospel entitled "According to Thomas," which states expressly, "The one who seeks me will find me in children of seven years and older, for there, hidden in the fourteenth aeon, I am revealed."

This appears to be a reference to saying 4 of Thomas, although the wording differs significantly.

Origen listed the "Gospel according to Thomas" as being among the heterodox apocryphal gospels known to him (Hom. in Luc. 1).

In the 4th and 5th centuries, various Church Fathers wrote that the Gospel of Thomas was highly valued by Mani. In the 4th century, Cyril of Jerusalem mentioned a "Gospel of Thomas" twice in his Catechesis: "The Manichæans also wrote a Gospel according to Thomas, which being tinctured with the fragrance of the evangelic title corrupts the souls of the simple sort."[24] and "Let none read the Gospel according to Thomas: for it is the work not of one of the twelve Apostles, but of one of the three wicked disciples of Manes."[25] The 5th century Decretum Gelasianum includes "A Gospel attributed to Thomas which the Manichaean use" in its list of heretical books.[26]

Date of composition

Richard Valantasis writes:

Assigning a date to the Gospel of Thomas is very complex because it is difficult to know precisely to what a date is being assigned. Scholars have proposed a date as early as 40 AD or as late as 140 AD, depending upon whether the Gospel of Thomas is identified with the original core of sayings, or with the author's published text, or with the Greek or Coptic texts, or with parallels in other literature.[27]

Valantasis and other scholars argue that it is difficult to date Thomas because, as a collection of logia without a narrative framework, individual sayings could have been added to it gradually over time.[28] Valantasis dates Thomas to 100 – 110 AD, with some of the material certainly coming from the first stratum which is dated to 30 – 60 AD.[29] J. R. Porter dates the Gospel of Thomas much later, to 250 AD.[30]

Early camp

Robert E. Van Voorst states:

Most interpreters place its writing in the second century, understanding that many of its oral traditions are much older.[31]

Scholars generally fall into one of two main camps: an "early camp" favoring a date for the "core" of between the years 50 and 100, before or approximately contemporary with the composition of the canonical gospels and a "late camp" favoring a date in the 2nd century, after composition of the canonical gospels.

Form of the gospel

Theissen and Merz argue the genre of a collection of sayings was one of the earliest forms in which material about Jesus was handed down.[32] They assert that other collections of sayings, such as the Q document and the collection underlying Mark 4, were absorbed into larger narratives and no longer survive as independent documents, and that no later collections in this form survive.[32] Marvin Meyer also asserted that the genre of a "sayings collection" is indicative of the 1st century,[33] and that in particular the "use of parables without allegorical amplification" seems to antedate the canonical gospels.[33] Maurice Casey has strongly questioned the argument from genre: the "logic of the argument requires that Q and the Gospel of Thomas be also dated at the same time as both the book of Proverbs and the Sayings of Amen-em-Opet."[34]

Independence from Synoptic Gospels

Stevan L. Davies argues that the apparent independence of the ordering of sayings in Thomas from that of their parallels in the synoptics shows that Thomas was not evidently reliant upon the canonical gospels and probably predated them.[35] Several authors argue that when the logia in Thomas do have parallels in the synoptics, the version in Thomas often seems closer to the source. Theissen and Merz give sayings 31 and 65 as examples of this.[32] Koester agrees, citing especially the parables contained in sayings 8, 9, 57, 63, 64 and 65.[36] In the few instances where the version in Thomas seems to be dependent on the Synoptics, Koester suggests, this may be due to the influence of the person who translated the text from Greek into Coptic.[36]

Koester also argues that the absence of narrative materials (such as those found in the canonical gospels) in Thomas makes it unlikely that the gospel is "an eclectic excerpt from the gospels of the New Testament".[36] He also cites the absence of the eschatological sayings considered characteristic of Q to show the independence of Thomas from that source.[36]

Intertextuality with John's gospel

Another argument for an early date is what some scholars have suggested is an interplay between the Gospel of John and the logia of Thomas. Parallels between the two have been taken to suggest that Thomas' logia preceded John's work, and that the latter was making a point-by-point riposte to Thomas, either in real or mock conflict. This seeming dialectic has been pointed out by several New Testament scholars, notably Gregory J. Riley,[37] April DeConick,[38] and Elaine Pagels.[39] Though differing in approach, they argue that several verses in the Gospel of John are best understood as responses to a Thomasine community and its beliefs. Pagels, for example, says that John's gospel makes two references to the inability of the world to recognize the divine light.[40] In contrast, several of Thomas' sayings refer to the light born 'within'.[41]

John's gospel is the only canonical one that gives Thomas the Apostle a dramatic role and spoken part, and Thomas is the only character therein described as having apistos (unbelief), despite the failings of virtually all the Johannine characters to live up to the author's standards of belief. With respect to the famous story of "Doubting Thomas",[42] it is suggested[39] that John may have been denigrating or ridiculing a rival school of thought. In another apparent contrast, John's text matter-of-factly presents a bodily resurrection as if this is a sine qua non of the faith; in contrast, Thomas' insights about the spirit-and-body are more nuanced.[43] For Thomas, resurrection seems more a cognitive event of spiritual attainment, one even involving a certain discipline or asceticism. Again, an apparently denigrating portrayal in the "Doubting Thomas" story may either be taken literally, or as a kind of mock "comeback" to Thomas' logia: not as an outright censuring of Thomas, but an improving gloss. After all, Thomas' thoughts about the spirit and body are really not so different from those which John has presented elsewhere.[44] John portrays Thomas as physically touching the risen Jesus, inserting fingers and hands into his body, and ending with a shout. Pagels interprets this as signifying one-upmanship by John, who is forcing Thomas to acknowledge Jesus' bodily nature. She writes that "...he shows Thomas giving up his search for experiential truth – his 'unbelief' – to confess what John sees as the truth...".[45] The point of these examples, as used by Riley and Pagels, is to support the argument that the text of Thomas must have existed and have gained a following at the time of the writing of John's Gospel, and that the importance of the Thomasine logia was great enough that John felt the necessity of weaving them into his own narrative.

As the scholarly debate continues on the issue of possible John–Thomas interplay, Christopher Skinner more recently responded in part to Riley, DeConick, and Pagels with John and Thomas – Gospels in Conflict? (Wipf and Stock, Princeton Theological Monograph Series 115, 2009).

Role of James

Albert Hogeterp argues that the Gospel's saying 12, which attributes leadership of the community to James the Just rather than to Peter, agrees with the description of the early Jerusalem church by Paul in Galatians 2:1–14 and may reflect a tradition predating AD 70.[46] Meyer also lists "uncertainty about James the righteous, the brother of Jesus" as characteristic of a 1st-century origin.[33]

In later traditions (most notably in the Acts of Thomas, Book of Thomas the Contender, etc.), Thomas is regarded as the twin brother of Jesus.[47] Nonetheless, this gospel holds some sentences (log. 55, 99 y 101), that are in opposition with the familiar group of Jesus, which involves difficulties, when it tries to identify him with James, the brother, quoted by Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews. Moreover, there are some sayings, (principally log. 6, 14, 104) and Oxyrh. papyri 654 (log. 6) in which Gospel is shown in the opposite point of view to Jewish mores specially in respect to the circumcision and dietary practices (log. 55), key issue, in the early Jewish-Christian community led by James (Acts 15: 1-35, Gal. 2:1–10).

In regard to 'Sabbath', it is very controversial the sense of the sentence: "if you do not keep the true, 'Sabbath', you will not see to Father". It seems that this saying is also contrary to strict observance of the Jewish law. Aelred Baker, quotes 'Macarius' of Syria: "For the soul that is considered worthy from the shameful and foul reflections keeps the sabbath a true sabbath and rests a true rest. . . . To all the souls that obey and come he gives rest from these . . . impure reflections . . ., (the souls) keeping the sabbath a true sabbath".[48] Meyer also highlights as the Coptic Language employs two different spellings for the word translated 'sabbath' in saying. 27 (sambaton and sabbaton), it is conceivable - but probably that the text could be translated 'observe the (whole) week as the sabbath' [49]

Depiction of Peter and Matthew

In saying 13, Peter and Matthew are depicted as unable to understand the true significance or identity of Jesus. Patterson argues that this can be interpreted as a criticism against the school of Christianity associated with the Gospel of Matthew, and that "[t]his sort of rivalry seems more at home in the first century than later", when all the apostles had become revered figures.[50]

Parallel with Paul

According to Meyer, Thomas's saying 17: "I shall give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard and no hand has touched, and what has not come into the human heart", is strikingly similar to what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9[33] (which was itself an allusion to Isaiah 64:4[51]).

Late camp

The late camp dates Thomas some time after 100 AD, generally in the mid-2nd century.[52][53] They generally believe that although the text was composed around the mid-2nd century, it contains earlier sayings such as those originally found in the New Testament gospels of which Thomas was in some sense dependent in addition to inauthentic and possibly authentic independent sayings not found in any other extant text. J. R. Porter dates Thomas much later, to the mid-third century.[30]

Dependence on the New Testament

Several scholars have argued that the sayings in Thomas reflect conflations and harmonisations dependent on the canonical gospels. For example, saying 10 and 16 appear to contain a redacted harmonisation of Luke 12:49, 12:51–52 and Matthew 10:34–35. In this case it has been suggested that the dependence is best explained by the author of Thomas making use of an earlier harmonised oral tradition based on Matthew and Luke.[54][55] Biblical scholar Craig A. Evans also subscribes to this view and notes that "Over half of the New Testament writings are quoted, paralleled, or alluded to in Thomas... I'm not aware of a Christian writing prior to AD 150 that references this much of the New Testament."[56]

Another argument made for the late dating of Thomas is based upon the fact that Saying 5 in the original Greek (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 654) seems to follow the vocabulary used in the gospel according to Luke (Luke 8:17), and not the vocabulary used in the gospel according to Mark (Mark 4:22). According to this argument – which presupposes firstly the rectitude of the Two-Source Hypothesis (widely held amongst current New Testament scholars), in which the author of Luke is seen as having used the pre-existing gospel according to Mark plus a lost Q document to compose his gospel – if the author of Thomas did, as Saying 5 suggests – refer to a pre-existing gospel according to Luke, rather than Mark's vocabulary, then the gospel of Thomas must have been composed after both Mark and Luke (the latter of which is dated to between 60 AD and 90 AD).

Another saying that employs similar vocabulary to that used in Luke rather than Mark is Saying 31 in the original Greek (Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1), where Luke 4:24's term dektos (acceptable) 4:24 is employed rather than Mark 6:4's atimos (without honor). The word dektos (in all its cases and genders) is clearly typical of Luke, since it is only employed by him in the canonical gospels Luke 4:19; 4:24; Acts 10:35). Thus, the argument runs, the Greek Thomas has clearly been at least influenced by Luke's characteristic vocabulary.[57]

J. R. Porter states that, because around half of the sayings in the Thomas have parallels in the synoptic gospels, its "possible that the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas were selected directly from the canonical gospels and were either reproduced more or less exactly or amended to fit the author's distinctive theological outlook."[58] According to John P. Meier, scholars predominantly conclude that Thomas depends on or harmonizes the Synoptics.[59]

Syriac origin

Several scholars argue that Thomas is dependent on Syriac writings, including unique versions of the canonical gospels. They contend that many sayings of the Gospel of Thomas are more similar to Syriac translations of the canonical gospels than their record in the original Greek. Craig A. Evans states that saying 54 in Thomas, which speaks of the poor and the kingdom of heaven, is more similar to the Syriac version of Matthew 5:3 than the Greek version of that passage or the parallel in Luke 6:20.[60]

Klyne Snodgrass notes that saying 65–66 of Thomas containing the Parable of the Wicked Tenants appears to be dependent on the early harmonisation of Mark and Luke found in the old Syriac gospels. He concludes that, "Thomas, rather than representing the earliest form, has been shaped by this harmonizing tendency in Syria. If the Gospel of Thomas were the earliest, we would have to imagine that each of the evangelists or the traditions behind them expanded the parable in different directions and then that in the process of transmission the text was trimmed back to the form it has in the Syriac Gospels. It is much more likely that Thomas, which has a Syrian provenance, is dependent on the tradition of the canonical Gospels that has been abbreviated and harmonized by oral transmission."[61]

Nicholas Perrin argues that Thomas is dependent on the Diatessaron, which was composed shortly after 172 by Tatian in Syria.[62] Perrin explains the order of the sayings by attempting to demonstrate that almost all adjacent sayings are connected by Syriac catchwords, whereas in Coptic or Greek, catchwords have been found for only less than half of the pairs of adjacent sayings.[63] Peter J. Williams analyzed Perrin's alleged Syriac catchwords and found them implausible. [64] Robert Shedinger wrote that since Perrin attempts to reconstruct an Old Syriac version of Thomas without first establishing Thomas' reliance on the Diatessaron, Perrin's logic seems circular.[65]

Lack of apocalyptic themes

Bart Ehrman argues that the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, and that his apocalyptic beliefs are recorded in the earliest Christian documents: Mark and the authentic Pauline epistles. The earliest Christians believed Jesus would soon return, and their beliefs are echoed in the earliest Christian writings. The Gospel of Thomas proclaims that the Kingdom of God is already present for those who understand the secret message of Jesus (Saying 113), and lacks apocalyptic themes. Because of this, Ehrman argues, the Gospel of Thomas was probably composed by a Gnostic some time in the early 2nd century.[66]

N.T. Wright, the former Anglican bishop and professor of NT history at Cambridge and Oxford, now Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St Mary's College in the University of St Andrews in Scotland, also sees the dating of Thomas in the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Wright's reasoning for this dating is that the "narrative framework" of 1st century Judaism and the New Testament is radically different from the worldview expressed in the sayings collected in the Gospel of Thomas. Thomas makes an anachronistic mistake by turning Jesus the Jewish prophet into a Hellenistic/Cynic philosopher. Wright concludes his section on the Gospel of Thomas in his book "The New Testament in the People of God" in this way: "[Thomas'] implicit story has to do with a figure who imparts a secret, hidden wisdom to those close to him, so that they can perceive a new truth and be saved by it. 'The Thomas Christians are told the truth about their divine origins, and given the secret passwords that will prove effective in the return journey to their heavenly home.' This is, obviously, the non-historical story of Gnosticism... It is simply the case that, on good historical grounds, it is far more likely that the book represents a radical translation, and indeed subversion, of first-century Christianity into a quite different sort of religion, than that it represents the original of which the longer gospels are distortions... Thomas reflects a symbolic universe, and a worldview, which are radically different from those of the early Judaism and Christianity."[67]

Relation to the New Testament Canon

Last page of the Gospel of Thomas

The harsh and widespread reaction to Marcion's canon, the first New Testament canon known to have been created, may demonstrate that, by 140 AD, it had become widely accepted that other texts formed parts of the records of the life and ministry of Jesus. Although arguments about some potential New Testament books, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Book of Revelation, continued well into the 4th century, four canonical gospels, attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were accepted among proto-orthodox Christians at least as early as the mid-2nd century. Tatian's widely used Diatessaron, compiled between 160 and 175 AD, utilized the four gospels without any consideration of others. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote in the late 2nd century that since there are four quarters of the earth ... it is fitting that the church should have four pillars ... the four Gospels (Against Heresies, 3.11.8), and then shortly thereafter made the first known quotation from a fourth gospel—the canonical version of the Gospel of John. The late 2nd-century Muratorian fragment also recognizes only the three synoptic gospels and John. Bible scholar Bruce Metzger wrote regarding the formation of the New Testament canon, "Although the fringes of the emerging canon remained unsettled for generations, a high degree of unanimity concerning the greater part of the New Testament was attained among the very diverse and scattered congregations of believers not only throughout the Mediterranean world, but also over an area extending from Britain to Mesopotamia."[68]

Relation to the Thomasine Milieu

The question also arises as to various sects' usage of other works attributed to Thomas and their relation to this work. The Book of Thomas the Contender, also from Nag Hammadi, is foremost among these, but the extensive Acts of Thomas provides the mythological connections. The short and comparatively straightforward Apocalypse of Thomas has no immediate connection with the synoptic gospels, while the canonical Jude – if the name can be taken to refer to Judas Thomas Didymus – certainly attests to early intra-Christian conflict. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, shorn of its mythological connections, is difficult to connect specifically to our gospel, but the Acts of Thomas contains the Hymn of the Pearl whose content is reflected in the Psalms of Thomas found in Manichaean literature. These psalms, which otherwise reveal Mandaean connections, also contain material overlapping the Gospel of Thomas.[69]

Importance and author

P. Oxy. 655

As one of the earliest accounts of the teachings of Jesus, the Gospel of Thomas is regarded by some scholars as one of the most important texts in understanding early Christianity outside the New Testament.[70] In terms of faith, however, no major Christian group accepts this gospel as canonical or authoritative. It is an important work for scholars working on the Q document, which itself is thought to be a collection of sayings or teachings upon which the gospels of Matthew and Luke are partly based. Although no copy of Q has ever been discovered, the fact that Thomas is similarly a 'sayings' Gospel is viewed by some scholars as an indication that the early Christians did write collections of the sayings of Jesus, bolstering the Q hypothesis.[71]

Most scholars do not consider Apostle Thomas the author of this document and the author remains unknown. J. Menard produced a summary of the academic consensus in the mid-1970s which stated that the gospel was probably a very late text written by a Gnostic author, thus having very little relevance to the study of the early development of Christianity. Scholarly views of Gnosticism and the Gospel of Thomas have since become more nuanced and diverse.[72] Paterson Brown, for example, has argued forcefully that the three Coptic Gospels of Thomas, Philip and Truth are demonstrably not Gnostic writings, since all three explicitly affirm the basic reality and sanctity of incarnate life, which Gnosticism by definition considers illusory and evil.

In the 4th century Cyril of Jerusalem considered the author a disciple of Mani who was also called Thomas.[73] Cyril stated: [74]

Mani had three disciples: Thomas, Baddas and Hermas. Let no one read the Gospel according to Thomas. For he is not one of the twelve apostles but one of the three wicked disciples of Mani.

Many scholars consider the Gospel of Thomas to be a gnostic text, since it was found in a library among others, it contains Gnostic themes, and perhaps presupposes a Gnostic worldview.[75] Others reject this interpretation, because Thomas lacks the full-blown mythology of Gnosticism as described by Irenaeus of Lyons (ca. 185), and because Gnostics frequently appropriated and used a large "range of scripture from Genesis to the Psalms to Homer, from the Synoptics to John to the letters of Paul."[76]

The historical Jesus

Some modern scholars believe that the Gospel of Thomas was written independently of the canonical gospels, and therefore is a useful guide to historical Jesus research.[70][77] Scholars may utilize one of several critical tools in biblical scholarship, the criterion of multiple attestation, to help build cases for historical reliability of the sayings of Jesus. By finding those sayings in the Gospel of Thomas that overlap with the Gospel of the Hebrews, Q, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and Paul, scholars feel such sayings represent "multiple attestations" and therefore are more likely to come from a historical Jesus than sayings that are only singly attested.[78]

Comparison of the major gospels

The material in the comparison chart is from Gospel Parallels by B. H. Throckmorton,[79] The Five Gospels by R. W. Funk,[80] The Gospel According to the Hebrews by E. B. Nicholson[81] and The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition by J. R. Edwards.[82]

Item Matthew, Mark, Luke John Thomas Nicholson/Edwards Hebrew Gospels
New Covenant The central theme of the Gospels – Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself[83] The central theme – Love is the New Commandment given by Jesus[84] Secret knowledge, love your friends[85]The central theme – Love one another[86]
Forgiveness Very important – particularly in Matthew and Luke[87] Assumed[88] Not mentioned Very important – Forgiveness is a central theme and this gospel goes into the greatest detail[89]
The Lord's Prayer In Matthew & Luke but not Mark[90] Not mentioned Not mentioned Important – "mahar" or "tomorrow"[91][92]
Love & the poor Very Important – The rich young man[93] Assumed[94] Important[95]Very important – The rich young man[96]
Jesus starts his ministry Jesus meets John the Baptist and is baptized in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar[97] Jesus meets John the Baptist, 46 years after Herod's Temple is built (John 2:20)[98] Only speaks of John the Baptist[99] Jesus meets John the Baptist and is baptized. This gospel goes into the greatest detail[100]
Disciples-number Twelve[101] Twelve[102] not mentioned[103] Twelve[104]
Disciples-inner circle Peter, Andrew, James & John[101] Peter, Andrew, the Beloved Disciple[102] Thomas,[103] James the Just[105] Peter, Andrew, James, & John[100]

Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon the Zealot, Judas Thaddaeus, & Judas Iscariot[102]

Philip, Nathanael, Thomas, Judas not Iscariot & Judas Iscariot[102]

Peter,[103][106] Matthew,[103] Mariam[106][107]

Matthew, James the Just (Brother of Jesus), Simon the Zealot, Thaddaeus, Judas Iscariot[108]

Possible Authors Unknown;[109] Mark the Evangelist & Luke the Evangelist The Beloved Disciple[110] Unknown Matthew the Evangelist (or Unknown)[111]
Virgin birth account Described in Matthew & Luke, Mark only makes reference to a "Mother"[112] Not mentioned, although the "Word becomes flesh" in John 1:14 N/A as this is a gospel of Jesus' sayings Not mentioned.
Jesus' baptism Described[90] Seen in flash-back (John 1:32-34)[90] N/A Described great detail[113]
Preaching style Brief one-liners; parables[90] Essay format, Midrash[90] Sayings, parables[114] Brief one-liners; parables[90]
Storytelling Parables[115] Figurative language & metaphor[116] proto-Gnostic, hidden, parables[117] Parables[118]
Jesus' theology 1st century liberal Judaism.[119] Critical of Jewish authorities[120] proto-Gnostic 1st century Judaism[119]
Miracles Many miracles Seven Signs N/A Fewer miracles[121]
Duration of ministry Not mentioned, possibly 3 years according to the Parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13) 3 years (Four Passovers)[122] N/A 1 year[123]
Location of ministry Mainly Galilee Mainly Judea, near Jerusalem N/A Mainly Galilee
Passover meal Body & Blood = Bread and wine Interrupts meal for foot washing N/A Hebrew Passover is celebrated but details are N/A Epiphanius[124]
Burial shroud A single piece of cloth Multiple pieces of cloth[125] N/A Given to the High Priest [126]
Resurrection Mary and the women are the first to learn Jesus has arisen[127] John adds detailed account of Mary's experience of the Resurrection[128] N/A In the Gospel of the Hebrews is the unique account of Jesus appearing to his brother, James the Just.[129]

See also


  1. The books, technically called codices had been bound by a method now called Coptic binding and placed in an earthenware jar. They were damaged by their discoverers, a group of peasants who broke the jar open and manhandled its contents.
  2. Modern-day scholars have numbered the sayings and even parts of the sayings, but the text contains no numbering.
  3. Lost Scriptures: Books that did not make it into the New Testament by Bart Ehrman, pp. 19-20
  4. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible by James D. G. Dunn, John William Rogerson, 2003, ISBN 0-8028-3711-5 page 1574
  5. The Fifth Gospel, Patterson, Robinson, Bethge, 1998
  6. April D. DeConick 2006 The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation ISBN 0-567-04382-7 page 2
  7. Layton, Bentley, The Gnostic Scriptures, 1987, p.361.
  8. Davies, Stevan L., The Gospel of Thomas and Christian Wisdom, 1983, pp. 23–24.
  9. DeConick, April D., The Original Gospel of Thomas in Translation, 2006, p.214
  10. Alister E. McGrath, 2006 Christian Theology ISBN 1-4051-5360-1 page 12
  11. James Dunn, John Rogerson 2003 Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible ISBN 0-8028-3711-5 page 1573
  12. Udo Schnelle, 2007 Einleitung in das Neue Testament ISBN 978-3-8252-1830-0 page 230
  13. "CHURCH FATHERS: Church History, Book III (Eusebius)".
  14. For photocopies of the manuscript see: http://www.gospels.net/thomas/
  15. A. Guillaumont, Henri-Charles Puech, Gilles Quispel, Walter Till and Yassah `Abd Al Masih, The Gospel According to Thomas (E. J. Brill and Harper & Brothers, 1959).
  16. Robinson, James M., General Editor, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, Revised Edition 1988, E.J. Brill, Leiden, and Harper and Row, San Francisco, ISBN 90-04-08856-3.
  17. Coptic Gnostic Papyri in the Coptic Museum at Old Cairo, vol. I (Cairo, 1956) plates 80, line 10 – 99, line 28.
  18. Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, Sayings of Our Lord from an early Greek Papyrus (Egypt Exploration Fund; 1897)
  19. Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman, The Secret Sayings of Jesus according to the Gospel of Thomas (Fontana Books, 1960).
  20. "P.Oxy.IV 0654".
  21. "P.Oxy.IV 0655".
  22. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (New York, 1990) p. 125.
  23. Koester 1990, pp.77ff
  24. Cyril Catechesis 4.36
  25. Cyril Catechesis 6.31
  26. Koester 1990 p. 78
  27. Valantasis, p. 12
  28. Patterson, Robinson, and Bethge (1998), p. 40
  29. Valantasis, p. 20
  30. 1 2 Porter, J. R. (2010). The Lost Bible. New York: Metro Books. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-4351-4169-8.
  31. Van Voorst, Robert (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. p. 189.
  32. 1 2 3 Theissen, Gerd; Merz, Annette (1998). The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 0-8006-3122-6.
  33. 1 2 3 4 Meyer, Marvin (2001). "Albert Schweitzer and the Image of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas". In Meyer, Marvin; Hughes, Charles. Jesus Then & Now: Images of Jesus in History and Christology. Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International. p. 73. ISBN 1-56338-344-6.
  34. Casey, Maurice (2002). An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Society for New Testament Studies Monograph Series. 122. Cambridge University Press. p. 33. ISBN 978-0521817233.
  35. "Misericordia University".
  36. 1 2 3 4 Koester, Helmut; Lambdin (translator), Thomas O. (1996). "The Gospel of Thomas". In Robinson, James MacConkey. The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Revised ed.). Leiden, New York, Cologne: E. J. Brill. p. 125. ISBN 90-04-08856-3.
  37. Resurrection Reconsidered: Thomas and John in Conflict (Augsberg Fortess, 1995)
  38. Voices of the Mystics: Early Christian Discourse in the Gospel of John and Thomas and Other Ancient Christian Literature (T&T Clark, 2001)
  39. 1 2 Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. (New York: Vintage, 2004)
  40. Jn 1:5, 1:10
  41. logia 24, 50, 61, 83
  42. (Jn. 20:26–29)
  43. (logia 29, 80, 87)
  44. e.g. Jn. 3:6, 6:52–6 – but pointedly contrasting these with 6:63
  45. Pagels, Elaine. Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. New York: Vintage, 2004. pp. 66–73
  46. Hogeterp, Albert L A (2006). Paul and God's Temple. Leuven, Netherlands; Dudley, MA: Peeters. p. 137. ISBN 90-429-1722-9.
  47. Turner, John D. (NHC II,7, 138,4). Retrieved 2016/01/08
  48. Dom Aelred Baker Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 18, No. 4 (Dec., 1964), pp. 220.
  49. Meyer, Marvin (1992). Gospel of Thomas, The hidden sayings of Jesus Harper Collins, San Francisco, ISBN 006065581X, pp. 81-82
  50. Patterson et al. (1998), p. 42
  51. "1 Corinthians 2:9 (footnote a.)". New International Version. Biblica, Inc. 2011. Retrieved 29 January 2011.
  52. Darrell L. Bock, "Response to John Dominic Crossan" in The Historical Jesus ed. James K. Beilby and Paul Rhodes Eddy. 148–149. "...for most scholars the Gospel of Thomas is seen as an early-second century text." (148–149).
  53. Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).61; 63. "Most date the gospel to the second century and place its origin in Syria...Most scholars regard the book as an early second-century work."(61); "However, for most scholars, the bulk of it is later reflecting a second-century work."(63)
  54. Klyne R. Snodgrass, "The Gospel of Thomas: A Secondary Gospel" in The Historical Jesus:Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Volume 4: Lives of Jesus and Jesus outside the Bible. Ed. Craig A. Evans. 299
  55. Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman, The Secret Sayings of Jesus (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, 1960) 136–137.
  56. Strobel, Lee (2007). The Case for the Real Jesus. United States: Zondervan. p. 36.
  57. For general discussion, see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, (New York, 1991) pp. 137; pp. 163–64 n. 133. See also Christopher Tuckett, "Thomas and the Synoptics," Novum Testamentum 30 (1988) 132–57, esp. p. 146.
  58. Porter, J. R. (2010). The Lost Bible. New York: Metro Books. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-4351-4169-8.
  59. See summary in John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (New York, 1991) pp. 135–138, especially the footnotes.
  60. Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008.
  61. Klyne R. Snodgrass, "The Gospel of Thomas: A Secondary Gospel" in The Historical Jesus:Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Volume 4: Lives of Jesus and Jesus outside the Bible. Ed. Craig A. Evans. 298
  62. Nicholas Perrin, "Thomas: The Fifth Gospel?," Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 49 (March 2006): 66–80
  63. Perrin, Nicholas (2003). Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship Between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron. Academia Biblica. 5. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers.
  64. Williams, P.J., "Alleged Syriac Catchwords in the Gospel of Thomas" Vigiliae Christianae, Volume 63, Number 1, 2009, pp. 71–82(12) BRILL
  65. Robert F. Shedinger, "Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron by Nicholas Perrin" Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 122, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 388
  66. Ehrman, Bart D. (1999). Jesus, apocalyptic prophet of the new millennium (revised ed.). Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 75–78. ISBN 0-19-512473-1.
  67. Wright, N.T. (1992). The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press. p. 443.
  68. Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament:its origin, development and significance p. 75
  69. Masing, Uku & Kaide Rätsep, Barlaam and Joasaphat: some problems connected with the story of "Barlaam & Joasaphat", the Acts of Thomas, the Psalms of Thomas and the Gospel of Thomas, Communio Viatorum 4:1 (1961) 29–36.
  70. 1 2 Funk 1993 p. 15
  71. B. Ehrman (2003) pp. 57–58
  72. April D. De Conick (2006) The original Gospel of Thomas in translation ISBN 0-567-04382-7 pages 2–3
  73. Wilhelm Schneemelcher 2006 New Testament Apocrypha ISBN 0-664-22721-X page 111
  74. Bentley Layton 1989 Nag Hammadi codex II, 2–7: Gospel according to Thomas ISBN 90-04-08131-3 page 106
  75. Ehrman 2003 pp.59ff
  76. Davies, Stevan. "Thomas: The Fourth Synoptic Gospel", The Biblical Archaeologist 1983 The American Schools of Oriental Research. pp. 6–8
  77. Koester 1990 p. 84–6
  78. Funk 1993 p. 16ff
  79. Throckmorton, B. H. Gospel Parallels.
  80. Funk, R. W. The Five Gospels.
  81. Nicholson, E. B. The Gospel According to the Hebrews.
  82. Edwards, J. R. The Hebrew Gospel and the Development of the Synoptic Tradition.
  83. "In the Synoptic Gospels this is the "Greatest" Commandment" that sums up all of the "Law and the Prophets"
  84. Jn 13:34
  85. Logion 25
  86. The Lord says to his disciples: "And never be you joyful, except when you behold one another with love." Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians
  87. Matt 18:21, Lk 17:4
  88. Jn 20:23
  89. In the Gospel of the Hebrews, written in the Chaldee and Syriac language but in Hebrew script, and used by the Nazarenes to this day (I mean the Gospel of the Apostles, or, as it is generally maintained, the Gospel of Matthew, a copy of which is in the library at Caesarea), we find, "Behold the mother of the Lord and his brothers said to him, ‘John the Baptist baptizes for the forgiveness of sins. Let us go and be baptized by him.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘in what way have I sinned that I should go and be baptized by him? Unless perhaps, what I have just said is a sin of ignorance.’" And in the same volume, "‘If your brother sins against you in word, and makes amends, forgive him seven times a day.’ Simon, His disciple, said to Him, ‘Seven times in a day!’ The Lord answered and said to him, ‘I say to you, Seventy times seven.’ " Jerome, Against Pelagius 3.2
  90. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Trite
  91. In the so-called Gospel of the Hebrews, for "bread essential to existence," I found "mahar", which means "of tomorrow"; so the sense is: our bread for tomorrow, that is, of the future, give us this day. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 1
  92. In Matthew's Hebrew Gospel it states, ‘Give us this day our bread for tomorrow." Jerome, On Psalm 135
  93. Matt 19:16, Mk 10:17 & Lk1 8:18
  94. Jn 12:8
  95. Jesus said "Blessed are the poor, for to you belongs the Kingdom of Heaven" Logion 54
  96. The second rich youth said to him, "Rabbi, what good thing can I do and live?" Jesus replied, "Fulfill the law and the prophets." "I have," was the response. Jesus said, "Go, sell all that you have and distribute to the poor; and come, follow me." The youth became uncomfortable, for it did not please him. And the Lord said, "How can you say, I have fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, when it is written in the Law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself and many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are covered with filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?" And he turned and said to Simon, his disciple, who was sitting by Him, "Simon, son of Jonah, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. "Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15:14
  97. Matt 3:1, Mk 1:9, 3:21, Luke 3:1
  98. Jn 1:29
  99. Gospel of Thomas, Logion 46: Jesus said, "From Adam to John the Baptist, among those born to women, no one is greater than John the Baptist that his eyes should not be averted. But I have said that whoever among you becomes a child will recognize the (Father's) kingdom and will become greater than John."
  100. 1 2 Epiphanius, Panarion 30:13
  101. 1 2 Matt 10:1, Mk 6:8, Lk 9:3
  102. 1 2 3 4 Jn 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20
  103. 1 2 3 4 Logion 13
  104. "There was a certain man named Jesus, about thirty years old, who chose us. Coming to Capernaum, He entered the house of Simon, who is called Peter, and said, ‘As I passed by the Sea of Galilee, I chose John and James, sons of Zebedee, and Simon, and Andrew, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, Judas Iscariot; and you Matthew, sitting at the tax office, I called and you followed me. You therefore, I want to be the Twelve, to symbolize Israel.’"Epiphanius, Panarion 30:13
  105. Logion 12
  106. 1 2 Logion 114
  107. Logion 21
  108. Epiphanius, Panarion 30:13, Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2
  109. Although several Fathers say Matthew wrote the Gospel of the Hebrews they are silent about Greek Matthew found in the Bible. Modern scholars are in agreement that Matthew did not write Greek Matthews which is 300 lines longer than the Hebrew Gospel (See James Edwards the Hebrew gospel)
  110. Suggested by Irenaeus first
  111. They too accept Matthew's gospel, and like the followers of Cerinthus and Merinthus, they use it alone. They call it the Gospel of the Hebrews, for in truth Matthew alone in the New Testament expounded and declared the Gospel in Hebrew using Hebrew script. Epiphanius, Panarion 30:3
  112. Matthew 1:16, 18-25, 2:11, 13:53-55, Mark 6:2-3, Luke 1:30-35, 2:4-21, 34
  113. "After the people were baptized, Jesus also came and was baptized by John. As Jesus came up from the water, Heaven was opened, and He saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove and enter into him. And a voice from Heaven said, ‘You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’ And again, ‘Today I have begotten you.’ "Immediately a great light shone around the place; and John, seeing it, said to him, ‘Who are you, Lord?' And again a voice from Heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then John, falling down before Him, said, ‘I beseech You, Lord, baptize me!’ But Jesus forbade him saying, ‘Let it be so as it is fitting that all things be fulfilled.’" Epiphanius, Panarion 30:13
  114. Jesus said, "The (Father's) kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After he had toiled, he said to the sheep, 'I love you more than the ninety-nine.'" Logion 107
  115. Mercer Dictionary of the Bible.
  116. Family of the King.
  117. Logion 109
  118. Hear Then the Parable.
  119. 1 2 Similar to beliefs taught by Hillel the Elder. (e.g. "golden rule")Hillel Hillel the Elder
  120. Jn 7:45 & Jn 3:1
  121. Jerome, Commentary on Matthew 2
  122. John 2:13, 4:35, 5:1, 6:4, 19:14
  123. Events leading up to Passover
  124. Epiphanius, Panarion 30:22
  125. As was the Jewish practice at the time. (John 20:5–7)
  126. Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2
  127. Matt 28:1 Mk16:1 Lk24:1
  128. Jn 20:11
  129. Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 2


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