No. The Gospel of Thomas is not an accurate, genuine, inspired, trustworthy, or reliable record about the Lord Jesus. There are several pieces of evidence that demonstrate this:


1. Although the Gospel of Thomas uses themes and characters, etc., found in the Biblical texts, it also shares elements – themes, motifs, expressions and concerns – from other sources, e.g. later Christian liturgical texts (for which, particularly see point 2 below), heterodox texts and non-Christian texts (see appendix 1 below). The use of later, developing theme, motifs, expressions and concerns places the composition of the Gospel of Thomas later rather than earlier – in fact, some of the themes, motifs, expressions and concerns are developments of the second century. Thus, the Gospel of Thomas‘ second century composition is too late for the Gospel to be an accurate or authentic record about the Lord Jesus.


2. The Gospel of Thomas demonstrates an (inter)dependent intertextuality with second century Christian traditions, particularly from Syria. This dependence demonstrates the Gospel of Thomas‘ second century date – too late for the Gospel to be apostolic. Examples of this (inter)dependence follow:

Original The Greek of Mat. 10:34 reads: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

The Greek of Luke 12:51 reads: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division!”

Syrian traditions The Curetonian Syriac (SyC) of Mat. 10:34b combines elements from both of the above into: “I came not to bring peace but division of minds and a sword.”

The source of the Syriac translation of Clementine Recognitions 2.26.6 reads: “I have not come that I might cast peace on earth but rather war.”

Gospel of Thomas Gospel of Thomas 16 shares an (inter)dependence with the second century and later Syrian tradition: “They do not know that it is division I have come to cast upon the earth: fire, sword, and war.”

There is an evolution of texts here. Matthew has ‘sword’; Luke ‘division’. The Curetonian Old Syriac version of Matthew combines both words together in one text; the source of Syriac Recognitions does not use either ‘sword’ or ‘division’ but ‘war’ instead. The Gospel of Thomas has all three – ‘sword’, ‘division’ and ‘war’. There is an (inter)dependence between the Gospel of Thomas and the Syrian traditions. Distinctive features, whether taken into other writings from the Gospel of Thomas, or taken from other writings into the Gospel of Thomas, surface in the second half of the second century in Syria. The evidence suggests that the Gospel of Thomas came to be known during the second century: it gives evidence of acquaintance with late second century Syrian traditions that have already taken a step away from the original. ‘The best and simplest explanation of the … evidence is that Thomas was not published until toward the end of the second century’.

Another example:

Original The Greek of Mat. 5:3 reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Greek of Luke 6:20 reads: …“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Syrian tradition Syriac Mat. 5:3 combines elements from both of the above into: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
Gospel of Thomas Gospel of Thomas 54 shares an (inter)dependence with the second century Syrian tradition: “Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”

Again, there is an evolution of texts here. Matthew has the third person ‘the poor in spirit’ and ‘the kingdom of heaven’; Luke has second person ‘for yours is’. The Syriac version of Matthew combines elements from both (‘the poor in spirit’ from Matthew; ‘for yours is’ from Luke; and back to Matthew for ‘the kingdom of heaven’) into one text. The Gospel of Thomas is in line with the Syrian tradition, omitting ‘in spirit’. There is an (inter)dependence between the Gospel of Thomas and the Syrian traditions. Distinctive features, whether taken into other writings from the Gospel of Thomas, or taken from other writings into the Gospel of Thomas, surface in the second half of the second century in Syria. The evidence suggests that the Gospel of Thomas came to be known during the second century: it gives evidence of acquaintance with late second century Syrian traditions that have already taken a step away from the original. ‘The best and simplest explanation of the … evidence is that Thomas was not published until toward the end of the second century’.1


3. Later Gospels (e.g. According to Philip; According to Mary; of James) appropriated names of first century Christians – particularly of the Apostles – in an attempt to lend credence to themselves. The Gospel of Thomas is in this vein, betraying its apocryphal nature, and is in contrast to the Gospels of the first century: the four Gospels were known to have come from the apostolic circle and so did not need to state their authors within their text, the names of the authors having been passed down orally.


4. The Gospel of Thomas is a heretical, or even a non-Christian, text. It identifies its provenance as such by its themes, motifs, expressions and concerns which it shares with other heretical or non-Christian texts (see appendix 1 below). As a heretical or non-Christian text it cannot be relied upon to give a true or accurate account of the Lord Jesus.


5. The Gospel of Thomas also does not use language that it ought, if it were a genuine record of the Lord Jesus’ life. For example, the Gospel of Thomas never refers to the Apostles as ‘the twelve’ (cf. Mat. 26:14; Mark 4:10; Luke 8:1; John 6:67), it never refers to the ‘Christ’ (cf. Mat. 23:8; Mark 9:41; Luke 24:46; John 17:3), and in it Jesus never refers directly to the Old Testament scriptures (cf. Mat. 22:31; Mark 2:25; Luke 10:26; John 10:35) – in fact, the only time in the Gospel of Thomas that Jesus comments on the Old Testament (logion 52) it is in a negative way, in stark contrast to Jesus’ respect, presented in the four Gospels, for the Old Testament (this is worth expanding: see point 6 below). The Gospel of Thomas also lacks the “apocalyptic”, which was often important in early Christian literature (e.g. Mat. 24:29-31; Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-27; John 5:28-29; 2Thess. 2:8, etc.). This shows the Gospel of Thomas is at a distance from the styles, concerns and happenings of first century Christianity. Most importantly, it shows that the Gospel of Thomas is not presenting a record of the real Jesus.


6. As highlighted in point 5 above, the Gospel of Thomas lacks any direct reference to the Old Testament – the Jewish – scriptures. Instead, the Gospel of Thomas has a negative attitude towards the Old Testament (logion 52) and presents a clean break from what has gone before. There is no reliance on tradition or past scripture. In contrast, in the four Gospels Jesus, as mentioned before, often referred to the Old Testament (e.g. Mat. 22:31; Mark 2:25; Luke 10:26; John 10:35) and even relied on it (Mat. 4:4);2 he had a high regard (to say the least) for, and made appeals to, the Jewish scriptures, as did the other inspired people of the New Testament (e.g. Mat. 2:23; Mark 1:2; Luke 2:21-39; John 19:24; Acts 7:3; Eph. 6:2-3; Heb. 1:13; James 2:22; 1Peter 2:7; Jude 9). This shows a number of things:

6.1 The Gospel of Thomas is out of kilter with the works in the New Testament. It does not fit in because it does not have the same concerns; it is not from the same source.

6.2 The Gospel of Thomas is happy to present itself as breaking from the past – it separates itself from what has gone before.3 Thus, the Gospel of Thomas is not part of the flow of Old and New Testament scriptures.

6.3 The Jesus that the Gospel of Thomas presents is not the same Jesus that the four Gospels present. If the four Gospels are inspired and present the real Jesus, then the Gospel of Thomas does not – and is, therefore, not inspired, either.


7. The Gospel of Thomas lacks the signs of a genuine eye-witness account; thus, it demonstrates its distance from the actual events of the Lord Jesus’ life. For example, the Gospel of Thomas never refers to towns; it does not refer to physical structures, to typological features, or historic events in the life of Jesus and his disciples. The four Gospels, on the other hand, demonstrate, by the language they use (incidental references to real, specific geography, figures, historical events, etc.),4 that they were written by people experiencing the events in and around the the Lord Jesus’ life.5

8. Even the form that the Gospel of Thomas takes, and the genre that it is in, highlight that the Gospel of Thomas is not part of Scripture. The Gospel of Thomas is in the more Hellenistic form of chreiai,6 which is incongruous, given that the usual Jewish form for writing about a champion was a “controversy-story” (e.g. the Old Testament Book of Daniel).7 In contrast to the Gospel of Thomas, the four Gospels show their Jewish colours by following the narrative style of the Jewish “controversy-stories”. In fact, the only texts in the first 200 years of Christianity to be in the form of cheriai are (the hypothetical) “Q” Source and the Gospel of Thomas8 – thanks to its form, the Gospel of Thomas demonstrates that it is a Hellenistic, not a Christian, work.7 Additionally, the genre of “sayings Gospels” also demonstrates that the Gospel of Thomas holds more of an affinity, not with the first century New Testament texts, but with second century texts such as The Sentences of Sextus, Dialogue of the Saviour, The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene, and The Apocryphon of James.

9. Some of the teachings in the Gospel of Thomas contradict Biblical teachings. For example:

  • Logion 14 (‘Jesus said to them, “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…’) contradicts the many teachings about giving (e.g. Matthew 6:1-4), prayer (v9-15) and fasting (v16-18), and even contradicts Jesus’ example (Mat. 4:2; Luke 11:1-4; John 13:29).
  • Logion 114 (‘Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven”‘) contradicts 1 Peter 3:7:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

(See also: 1 Corinthians 9:5 & Galatians 3:28.)

  • Logion 13 (‘…Thomas said to him [Jesus]: “Teacher, my mouth will not bear at all to say whom you are like.” Jesus said: “I am not your teacher.…’9) contradicts Jesus’ role as teacher throughout the New Testament (e.g. Mat. 23:8).
  • Logion 51 (‘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.”) contradicts the New Testament’s insistence that the new world had not yet come (e.g. 2Peter 3:13; Rev. 21:1)
  • The Gospel of Thomas‘ veneration of the individual (Logia 49,75) contradicts the Bible’s teachings about community (e.g. Rom. 12:4-5; 1Cor. 12:12,20,25).
  • Logion 3 (‘…the kingdom is inside of you, and it is 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. …’) is (1) counter to Jesus’ emphasis that we need to know God (John 17:3), and (2) contradicts the Bible’s teaching that humans are not inherently ‘sons of the living father’ (rather, we are naturally ‘children of wrath’ [Eph. 2:3], but become God’s children when we have faith in him and what he’s achieved through Jesus [Gal. 3:26]. Logion 70 is similar to logion 3 in this regard).

10. The Gospel of Thomas probably incorrectly attributes sayings to Jesus. For example, logion 17 attributes the following to Jesus:

…”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.”

This is taken from 1 Corinthians 2:9, where Paul writes:

But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Here Paul is quoting – and adapting – a passage from the Old Testament (‘it is written’; specifically, in Isaiah 64:4), not from the words of the Lord Jesus. If Jesus had said something similar, it is reasonable to suppose that Paul would have attributed this adaptation of Isaiah 64:4 to him. As it happens, he doesn’t – so it probable that Jesus indeed never did say words similar to this. The Gospel of Thomas, then, uses Paul’s adaptation of Isaiah, further rewords it, and places it in the mouth of Jesus.10

At the least, this shows the Gospel of Thomas cannot be trusted as a reliable source of information. If it misattributed words to Jesus, we cannot trust it to have attributed the other sayings correctly.


11. The Gospel of Thomas contains some genuine but anachronistic Christian teachings. For example, the teachings in Christianity about the issue of circumcision came later in history (e.g. Acts 15:1f.), after the Lord Jesus had ascended to Heaven; it was not yet a concern in Jesus’ day, and yet the Gospel of Thomas anachronistically presents Jesus as teaching on it (logion 53). The concerns of the later church are retrospectively and anachronistically superimposed on the Lord Jesus (if Jesus had taught on it then you would have expected Paul, for example, in the later disputed to have appealed to Jesus’ teaching as authoritative – this doesn’t happen, demonstrating that Jesus infact did not teach about it). This demonstrates that some of the sayings, at least, are not genuinely from Jesus, and it brings the whole of the text of the Gospel of Thomas (except those things already mentioned in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) into disrepute.

12. Even the poor number of manuscripts (three second century fragments in the original Greek language, and one nearly complete Coptic manuscript from the fourth century) witnessing to the Gospel of Thomas highlight large textual variations. This means the Gospel of Thomas is unreliable: we cannot trust it to have accurately preserved the original words of the original text (let alone the original words of Jesus). Examples of the variants follow:

  • Compare (a) Greek fragment pOxy. 654.5-9 with (b) Coptic logion 2:

(a) [Jesus said,] “Let the one seek[ing] not stop [seeking until] he finds. And when he find[s he will marvel, and mar]veling he will reign, an[d reigning] he will [rest.]”

(b) Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.”

  • Compare (a) Greek fragment pOxy. 1.23-30 with (b) Coptic logion 30:

(a) [Jesus sa]id, ["Wh]ere there are [th]r[ee] t[hey ar]e [without] God. And [w]here there is only o[ne], I say, I am with hi[m]. Li[f]t the stone and there you will find me. Split the wood and I am there.”

(b) Jesus said, “Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him.”

  • Compare (a) Greek fragment pOxy. 655i.1-17 with (b) Coptic logion 36:

(a) [Jesus said, "Do not worry f]rom early u[ntil late no]r from ev[ening until m]orning. Worry neither [for y]our [food,] what [you] will eat, [nor] for [your] c[lothes,] what you will wear. [You are] [mu]ch gr[ea]ter than the [lil]lies wh[ich n]either ca[r]d nor s[pi]n. When you have n[o c]lo[thing], what do [you wear]? Who can add to your time of life? H[e it is who w]ill give you your clothing.”

(b) Jesus said, “Do not be concerned from morning until evening and from evening until morning about what you will wear.”

  • Compare (a) Greek fragment pOxy. 655i.17-23 with (b) Coptic logion 37:

(a) His disciples said to him, “When will you be visible to us? And when will we see you?” He said, “When you undress and are not ashamed.”

(b) His disciples said, “When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?” Jesus said, “When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid”

  • Additionally, one of the Greek fragment contains logia 26-30, 77, 31-33 in that order (out of sync with the later Coptic manuscript). This is particularly important in regard to the following point.

13. The large discrepancies, mentioned above (point 12), between the Greek fragments and the later Coptic translation shows the Gospel of Thomas underwent a process of editing and redraft. Editing and redrafting processes take time and develop as a community using the text develops their ideas: this is further evidence of a late date of final composition, making the Gospel of Thomas unrepresentative of the history of the first century (it makes the Gospel of Thomas useful for understanding the beliefs of these later centuries, however). It also makes the Gospel of Thomas too late to be apostolic.


14. The first mention we have of the Gospel of Thomas is in the third century, by Hippolytus (c. 170 – c. 236):

…they [a heretical sect, the Naasseni] hand down an explicit passage, occurring in the Gospel inscribed according to Thomas, expressing themselves thus: He who seeks me, will find me in children from seven years old; for there concealed, I shall in the fourteenth age be made manifest. This, however, is not (the teaching) of Christ … (Refutation of All Heresies 5.2)

The late date of this first mention is further cumulative evidence that the Gospel of Thomas was written far later than the four canonical Gospels, too late to be apostolic.11


15. The Gospel of Thomas quote we have from Hippolytus (see point 14 above) is not found in the Gospel of Thomas as we currently have it. This is further evidence of a time-consuming editorial process, and it points to a later date of final composition.


16. The Gospel of Thomas uses material from both the Gospel According to the Hebrews and the Gospel According the the Egyptians, which were written during the second century. This is further evidence of date later than the first century.

Clement of Alexandria (c.150 – c. 215 AD) quotes from the Gospel According to the Hebrews (as opposed to the Gospel of Thomas, which he could have referenced if it was in existence and held primacy [older and more authoritative]) twice:

…in the Gospel to the Hebrews it is written, He that wonders shall reign, and he that has reigned shall rest. (Stromata 2.9)

For those have equal power with these. He, who seeks, will not stop till he find; and having found, he will wonder; and wondering, he will reign; and reigning, he will rest. (Stromata 5.14)

Cf. logion 2. He quotes from the Gospel According to the Egyptians (as opposed to the Gospel of Thomas) as follows:

“When Salome asked when she would know the answer to her questions, the Lord said, When you trample on the robe of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female, and there is neither male nor female.” …In the first place we have not got the saying in the four Gospels that have been handed down to us, but in the Gospel according to the Egyptians. (Stromata 3.13.92-93)

Cf. Gospel of Thomas 22,37,106.

Hippolytus’ third century mention of the Gospel of Thomas places the Gospel of Thomas before 200 AD; and Clement’s quotes from the second century Gospels According to the Hebrews and the Egyptians – and then the Gospel of Thomas‘ subsequent use of both Gospels – places the Gospel of Thomas later than both the Gospel According to the Hebrews and the Gospel According to the Egyptians, i.e. also in the second century.


17. The Gospel of Thomas, as well as not being mentioned by anyone until the third century, was also never recognised as canonical, or even as ‘disputed’, with some people thinking it should be recognised as canonical, and others disagreeing – or even, for that matter, as non-canonical but still orthodox and useful for reading – by the early church.12,13 There was – and remains – no tradition past down that would indicate the Gospel of Thomas was apostolic, and there was – and remains – no record of it having be used in the church anywhere, let alone universally; its content demonstrates it is outside of orthodoxy.14 Members of the early church were not stupid; the genuine New Testament texts were known to be from the apostolic circle; and those texts demonstrated their veracity: so we can trust the historical perspective that the Gospel of Thomas is not part of the Christian scriptures.


18. Following on from point 17 above, particularly condemning is the absence of the Gospel of Thomas from use in church circles in areas traditional thought to have been converted by the preaching of the apostle Thomas. Traditionally, Thomas is supposed to have travelled away from Israel to Syria and on even as far as India.15 If any groups of Christians would be in possession and make use of the Gospel of Thomas it would be these. However, the Gospel of Thomas is not used in these areas.16 Further, the Gospel of Thomas is not simply unused, it is also unmentioned – as in the rest of the Christian world of the time (see point 17 above), the Gospel of Thomas is not even a consideration in these areas.17 The evidence is that the Gospel of Thomas was never respected in the Syrian church, and not even available in India18 – which is rather odd, if the Gospel of Thomas really was written by Thomas. Of course, the best historical answer to this potential oddity is that the Gospel of Thomas was not written by Thomas, and thus is a fake (one of the pseudepigrapha).

Additionally, although in existence in Egypt (evidenced by its Coptic translation), the Gospel of Thomas was never considered part of the Christian scriptures in this area, either – even though the Copts were happy to include other books in their Bibles (i.e. some of the Old Testament apocrypha),19 and even though some of the most liberal (when it comes to regarding a text as inspired) Christians lived in this area (e.g. Clement of Alexandria20).


19. Although the discussion within the early church about some of the canonical New Testament books continued for some time, the canonical status of the four Gospels was recognised very early on. This can be seen in the writings of Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.11.8), for example, as well as the Muratorian Canon (both late second century) and Titian’s Diatessaron (mid- to late second century), a harmony of the four Gospels (plus an occasional fifth source — not Thomas). The early recognition of the four Gospels, along with the Gospel of Thomas being a non-entity in any discussions of canonicity (see also point 17), further show that the Gospel of Thomas was never recognised as part of scripture (or even disputed as such). The simplest historical reason for this absence and exclusion is that the Gospel of Thomas wasn’t written early enough to even be worth mentioning in discussions on canonicity, had an obvious lack of apostolic connection, and was recognised as holding heretical teachings.

20. An extra point for people who believe in an almighty God (Luke 1:37), who is interested in humanity (John 3:16), communicates to humanity, and values his words of communication (Ps. 138:2; Isa. 55:11; 1Sam. 3:19): God has been careful to ensure all the information we need has been collected in the Bible. Anything outside of the Bible is, at least, extraneous.


Positive contribution of the Gospel of Thomas

Although the Gospel of Thomas is not an inspired text and is written in the second-century – and, thus, is rightly not included in the Bible – it does contribute helpfully to Christianity, and to the Bible particularly.

In some of its logia, the Gospel of Thomas holds a close resemblance to the canonical Gospels,21 and even to other New Testament books.22 Because the Gospel of Thomas is written after the four Gospels and is not inspired, we know that this resemblance is a dependence on the four Gospels.22 Thus the Gospel of Thomas becomes one of the many witnesses to both the early composition and the early recognition (even by heretical and/or non-Christian sects) of the four Canonicals (as well as other books of the New Testament).



Notes to main answer

1. I am indebted to Prof. Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (Nottingham: IVP, 2007), p. 74-6, plus personal correspondence (24/09/10) with him for this point (the quote ‘The best and simplest explanation of the … evidence is that Thomas was not published until toward the end of the second century’ is taken from the personal correspondence). The translations of the Gospel of Thomas and the Syriac texts in the tables are also taken from Fabricating Jesus.

2. For a useful tabularization of Jesus’ use of the Old Testament, see R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament (London: Tyndale, 1971), p. 259-63.

3. The author of the Gospel of Thomas himself would not mind people saying his Gospel was disconnected from the works in both the Old and New Testaments! The Gospel of Thomas is quite happy to take this stance. Perhaps we should let it.

4. See Lorne Zelyck, ‘Are the ‘other’ gospels historical?’ (2010) on 4Gospels.com

<http://www.4gospels.com/Are%20the%20other%20gospels%20historical.html> (accessed 12/07/2010) for a compilation of the data.

5. I am grateful to Dr Peter Williams (‘Evidence of Eyewitnesses’ at The Authentic Gospels: New Evidence [London: Bible and Church, 12/06/2010]) for this point.

6.Risto Uro, Thomas; Seeking the Historical Context (London: T & T Clark, 2003), p. 115. For examples of ancient textbooks on rhetoric devises (including chreiai) – called progymnasmata – see those by Theon of Alexandria (fl. c. 100 AD), Hermogenes of Tarus (fl. second century; or third or fourth century text attributed to Hermogenes), Aphthonius of Antioch (fl. c. 400 AD) and Nicolaus of Myra (fl. c. 430-500 AD) (Theresa Enos (ed), Encyclopedia of rhetoric and composition [Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 1996], p. 562). For examples of chreiai see the relevant sections of the progymnasmata above.

7. N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), p. 435. Jewish collections of sayings did appear – e.g. Ethics of the Fathers/Pirkei Avot – but they were later, also second century (Hermann Strack, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1945], p.11-12; Louis Jacobs, The Jewish Religion [Oxford: OUP, 1995], p. 153).

8. ibid, p. 435

9. Translation: Stephen J. Patterson and James M. Robinson (in Stephen J. Patterson, James M. Robinson, and Hans- Gebhard Bethge, The Fifth Gospel [Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998]). Also see, e.g.: Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer (in Robert Joseph Miller (ed), The Complete Gospels [Salem: Polebridge Press, 1994]); Marvin Meyer (in Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer (eds), The Gnostic Bible [Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2006]); Stevan L. Davies (in The Gospel of Thomas [Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2004]). Others (e.g. Lambdin) have ‘I am not your master’. The translation used is irrelevant to the issue (the point still stands, either way): see, e.g., Mat. 10:24-25; John 15:20; Jude 4.

10. I am grateful to Jonathan Burke for this point.

11. Cf. Ehrman on The Gospel According to the Egyptians: ‘Since the Gospel is well-known to Clement and, evidently, his community, it may have been composed already by the first part of the second century.’ (Lost Scriptures [Oxford: OUP, 2003], p. 18)

12. On the contrary, the references we do have to the Gospel of Thomas are condemning; see, e.g., Hippolytus in point 14 above. Other examples include: Origen (b. 185), Homily on Luke 1.2; Eusebius (b. 260), Ecclesiastical History 3.25.6-7; Cyril of Jerusalem (b. 315), Catechetical Lecture 4.36; 6.31.

13. See Bruce Metzger’s The Canon of the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987) and The early versions of the New Testament (Oxford: OUP, 1977) and B. F. Westcott’s The Bible in the Church (London: Macmillan, 1864) and A general survey of the history of the canon of the New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1866) for a comprehensive presentation of the evidence.

14. These criteria – whether a text (1) had an apostolic origin, (2) was used universally by the church and (3) was orthodox (i.e. matched with the truth that had been handed down) – were the main tests the church used to recognise canonicity (see Michael Green, The Books the Church Suppressed [Oxford: Monarch, 2005], p. 81-92 for  a summary). More memorably, Darrell L. Bock names these criteria (1) ‘roots’, (2) ‘usage’ and (3) ‘content’ (Breaking the Da Vinci Code [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004], p. 110).

15. E. A. Livingstone, ‘Thomas, St’ in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford: OUP)

16. All of the various Syriac versions of the Bible – the Old Syriac version, the Diatessaron, the Peshitta, the Philoxenian and the Harclean – do not contain the Gospel of Thomas; Syrian canon lists do not mention it (see Bruce Metzger, The New Testament [London: Lutterworth Press, 1969], p. 276 & The Canon of the New Testament [Oxford: Clarendon, 1987], p. 114,218 for summaries).

17. A potentially striking example of this is that the Gospel of Thomas is not even mentioned the list of Indian “Thomas Christian” books thought heretical and destroyed by the supposed orthodox Christians from the West after the Synod of Diamper (AD 1599) [Paul Verghese, ‘The Church in Kerala at the Coming of the Portuguese’ in The St Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India Vol. 2 (Trichur: The St Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India, 1973), p. 34]: if the “Thomas Christians” possessed the Gospel of Thomas then it would have been exposed by the Christians from the West who considered it heterodox. As it happens, the “Thomas Christians” didn’t posses it – and it appears they didn’t even know of it, which is unusual if the Gospel of Thomas really was written by the apostle Thomas.

18. Also see Bentley Layton (ed.), The Gnostic Scriptures (New York: Doubleday, 1987; paperback 1995), p. 360-364, 378-379; Wilhelm Schneemelcher (ed.), New Testament Apocrypha, Volume 1: Gospels and Related Writings translated by R. McL. Wilson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1991; paperback 2003), p. 111-113; Robert J. Miller (ed.), The Complete Gospels: Annotated Scholars Version (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 1994), p. 301-303 (I am grateful to Lawrence King for these).

19. B. F. Westcott, The Bible in the Church (London: Macmillan, 1864), p. 325

20. See, e.g., his Exhortation 6, where he regards Plato as inspired.

21. E.g. cf.. logion 94 with Mat.7:8; logion 4 with Mark 9:35-7; logion 107 with Luke 15:3-7; logion 1 with John 8:51.

22. For more on the Gospel of Thomas‘ dependence on the New Testament, especially the four Gospels, see Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus (Nottingham: IVP, 2007), p. 68-71 (including footnotes 11,12,14).


Appendix 1

Examples follow of the Gospel of Thomas‘ synthesises of themes, motifs, expressions and concerns from various non-canonical Christian texts (e.g. liturgies), heterodox texts and non-Christian texts. Two things to note:

  1. Some of the themes, motifs, expressions and concerns are developments of the 2nd century, which places the composition of the Gospel of Thomas too late to be an accurate or authentic record about the Lord Jesus (point 1 in the main text).
  2. Some of the themes, motifs, expressions and concerns are shared with heretical, or even non-Christian, texts, demonstrating the heretical or non-Christian provenance of the Gospel of Thomas. As a heretical or non-Christian text it cannot be relied upon to give a true or accurate account of the Lord Jesus (point 4 in the main text).

Examples:

Secret teachings

‘These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.’ (incipit; also see logia 13)

Cf.:

    • ‘…I have said everything to you that you might write them down and give them secretly to your fellow spirits…’ (The Apocryphon of John)
    • ‘I send you a secret book which was revealed to me and Peter by the Lord…I also sent you, ten months ago, another secret book which the Savior had revealed to me…’ (The Apocryphon of James)
    • ‘And he [Jesus] said to me [Peter], “Be strong, for you are the one to whom these mysteries have been given, to know them through revelation…”‘ (The Apocalypse of Peter)
    • ‘The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another.’ (The Book of Thomas the Contender)
    • twin of Christ, apostle of the Most High and initiate in the hidden word of Christ who receivest his secret oracles… {39} Jesu, the hidden mystery that hath been revealed unto us, thou art he that hast shown unto us many mysteries; thou that didst call me apart from all my fellows and spakest unto me three (one, Syr.) words wherewith I am inflamed, and am not able to speak them unto others. {47} (The Acts of Thomas)
    • ‘The Gospel of <the> Egyptians. The God-written, holy, secret book.’ (Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians/Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit)
    • Basilides, therefore, and Isidorus, the true son and disciple of Basilides, say that Matthias communicated to them secret discourses, which, I being specially instructed, he heard from the Saviour. … some secret disclosure from the discourses of Matthias. (Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 7.8)

‘Judas Thomas’

These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down. (incipit)

Cf.:

    • Judas Thomas said to him [Jesus] … (Old Syriac John 14:22, manuscript SyC)1
    • Thomas said to him [Jesus] … (Old Syriac John 14:22, manuscript SyS)2
    • The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another. (The Book of Thomas the Contender)
    • According to the lot, therefore, India fell unto Judas Thomas, which is also the twin…. (+ 11 more occurrences; The Acts of Thomas)
    • To these epistles there was added the following account in the Syriac language. After the ascension of Jesus, Judas, who was also called Thomas, sent to him [i.e. Agbar, king of Edessa (1.13.2,4)] Thaddeus, an apostle, one of the Seventy. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1.13.10)

‘The all’

~x5 in the Gospel of Thomas (sayings 2,67[?],77[x3]).

Cf. Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex (x65); A Valentinian Exposition (x28); Trimorphic Protennoia (x25); The Gospel of Truth (x22); Zostrianos (~x12); The Apocryphon of John (~x12); Melchizedek (x7); The Interpretation of Knowledge (x4); Marsanes (x3); The Second Treatise of the Great Seth; The Treatise on the Resurrection (both x2); The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene; The Book of Thomas the Contender; The Thought of Norea; Allogenes; The Dialogue of the Saviour; The Testimony of Truth; The Tripartite Tractate (x1 each)

‘Bridal chamber’

x2 (75,104).

Cf. The Gospel of Philip (x25); The Tripartite Tractate; The Acts of Thomas (x5 each); The Exegesis on the Soul (x3); Authoritative Teaching; The Second Treatise of the Great Seth; The Teachings of Silvanus; The Dialogue of the Saviour (x1 each). Also see Ephraem Syrus, ‘Stanzas Against Bardaisan’ in Prose Refutations of Mani, Marcion and Bardaisan 81,85 and the phrase as used by Armenian Christians3

Drunkenness as a metaphor for unclear thinking

x3 (28).

Cf. The Book of Thomas the Contender; The Gospel of Truth; The Teachings of Silvanus; Authoritative Teaching (x2 each); The Apocryphon of John; The Apocryphon of James; Zostrianos (x1 each)

‘Movement’

x1 (50).

Cf. The Tripartite Tractate (x5); Trimorphic Protennoia (x4); Zostrianos (~x2); A Valentinian Exposition; The Sophia of Jesus Christ (x1 each)

‘Man of light’

x1 (24).

Pistis Sophia (x4); On the Origin of the World; Melchizedek; Untitled Text in the Bruce Codex (x2 each); The Apocryphon of James (x1)

‘Deficiency’

x2 (67).

Cf. The Letter of Peter to Philip; The Apocryphon of John (both x6); The Gospel of Truth (x15); The Tripartite Tractate (x3); The Dialogue of the Savior; The Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth; Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians/Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit; The Teachings of Silvanus; On the Origin of the World; The Paraphrase Of Shem (x2 each); The Thought of Norea; The Treatise on the Resurrection (x1 each)

‘Undivided’

x1 (61).

Cf. Zostrianos (x9); Allogenes (x4); The Second Treatise of the Great Seth (x3); The Interpretation of Knowledge; The Gospel of Truth; Marsanes (x1 each)

Males superior to females

‘Simon Peter said to him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”‘ (114)

Cf.:

    • ‘…the defect of femaleness…’ (Eugnostos the Blessed)
    • ‘The perishable has gone up to the imperishable and the female element has attained to this male element.’ (The (First) Apocalypse of James)
    • ‘And do not become female, lest you give birth to evil and (its) brothers: jealousy and division, anger and wrath, fear and a divided heart, and empty, non-existent desire.’ (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth)
    • ‘Flee from the madness and the bondage of femaleness, and choose for yourselves the salvation of maleness.’ (Zostrianos)
    • Judas said, “You have told us this out of the mind of truth. When we pray, how should we pray?” The Lord said, “Pray in the place where there is no woman.” (Dialogue of the Saviour)
    • Also see the creation stories of The Apocryphon of John and The Hypostasis of the Archons.

Inside/outside

‘…Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below…then will you enter the kingdom.”‘ (22)

Cf.:

    • …he said, “I came to make the things below like the things above, and the things outside like those inside. I came to unite them in the place.”‘ (The Gospel of Philip)
    • ‘For what is inside of you is what is outside of you, and the one who fashions you on the outside is the one who shaped the inside of you. And what you see outside of you, you see inside of you; it is visible and it is your garment.’ (The Thunder, Perfect Mind)

Rest and reign

‘Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.”‘ (2)

Cf.:

    • And the apostle said: The treasury of the holy king is opened wide, and they which worthily partake of the good things that are therein do rest, and resting do reign… (Acts of Thomas)
    • ‘…when you come forth from the sufferings and passions of the body, you will receive rest from the good one, and you will reign with the king…’ (The Book of Thomas the Contender)
    • ‘For your sake, they will be told these things, and will come to rest. For your sake, they will reign, and will become kings.’ (The (Second) Apocalypse of James)
    • ‘Be ye therefore rather prepared for this, that through temporary afflictions ye may attain to everlasting rest, and may flourish for ever, and reign with Christ.’ (Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew)

Light

‘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.’ If they say to you, ‘Is it you?’, say, ‘We are its children, we are the elect of the living father.’…’ (50)

‘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. …”‘ (77)

Cf.:

    • ‘For from the light, which is the Christ, and the indestructibility, through the gift of the Spirit the four lights (appeared) from the divine Autogenes.’ (The Apocryphon of John)
    • ‘All who come into the world, like a drop from the Light, are sent by him to the world of Almighty, that they might be guarded by him.’ (The Sophia of Jesus Christ)

‘Know oneself’

‘Jesus said, ‘…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.” (3)

‘…Does not Jesus say, “Whoever finds himself is superior to the world?” (111)

Cf.:

    • ‘The savior said, ‘…you will be called ‘the one who knows himself’. For he who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all.’ (The Book of Thomas the Contender)
    • Right was thy thought, O thou! But how doth “he who knows himself, go unto Him”, as God’s Word (Logos) hath declared? (Poemandres 21)
    • If you do not know yourself, you will not be able to know all of these. (The Teachings of Silvanus)
    • ‘The Lord said, “Everyone who has known himself has seen it [the 'place of life'] in everything given to him to do, [...] and has come to [...] it in his goodness.”‘ (Dialogue of the Saviour)
    • “If you seek with a perfect seeking, then you shall know the Good that is in you; then you will know yourself as well, (as) one who derives from the God who truly pre-exists.” (Allogenes)

Notes to appendix 1

1. Risto Uro, Thomas: seeking the historical context of the Gospel of Thomas (London: T & T Clark, 2003), p. 10; Stephen J. Patterson, James M. Robinson and Hans-Gebhard Bethge, The Fifth Gospel (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1998), p. 38; Marvin W. Meyer, Secret Gospels (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 2003), p. 44

2. Uro, op. cit.; Helmut Köster, Ancient Christian gospels (Harrisburg: Trinity press, 1990), p. 79

3. Summarized in Roberta R. Ervine, Worship traditions in Armenia and the neighboring Christian East (New Rochelle: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2006), p. 148-9

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  • Jon Morgan

    The quotation you have as 1 Peter 3:7 looks like it is actually Galatians 3:28.

    • Luke Buckler

      Thanks, Jon. Corrected.

  • Alex Smith

    I like and appreciate all the work and effort put forth here. Thank you for that. I would like to say though I would disagree on some of your major points.
    1. I would like to point out your second point. When your work points out the Greek, Syriac, and Gospel of Thomas words, it seems as though that the Gospel on most cases can go before the Syriac and what they said. Also I would like to point out that later in your work you discovered, or pointed out that the Gospel of Thomas has been basically worked on or updated for a long time. I would like to assert that as long as the main point and the message stays in contact then there is no issue, in fact if the language of old was updated on a normal basis, I might then hypothesis that it was very important to alot of people because they took the time to translate or update it on a pretty regular or at least on multiple occasions.
    2. This will be my last and main observation/criticism on your rather well planned and laid out thesis. On your point three I would like to state that I do believe that the Gospels in the cannon (for the most part) have authorship. Matthew does not, it is just accepted because well he had the knowledge to do it, and statistics/math is mentioned 3 times. Mark is actually the only Gospel where we know from evidence and facts that he (Mark) wrote it. Luke is for the most part excepted to have wrote the Gospel of Luke, but the fact remains that the evidence is not there. We can assert that because this work and the work of Acts are so similar in style that the author must have been the same. Gospel of John has a similar fate as the others, un-named authorship or unclaimed. The only reason John is excepted as author is because the author is indicated as “the beloved disciple.” Now I know that the beloved disciple is largely considered to be John, but does that make it right? I know it does not make it wrong, but unless someone can prove to me that the “beloved disciple” is in fact John, and not the un-named disciple as mentioned elsewhere in the holy text, then I consider this Gospel to be another one of unknown authorship, Hence unknown origin.
    3. I know I said no more points but this one is short. At least in the Gospel of Thomas, it is KNOW who wrote it. It is not a GUESS or ASSUMPTION.

  • Luke Buckler

    Hi Alex,

    Sorry for my delay in replying. Thanks for the comment. In response, I’ve changed the emphasis of point 2 in the main answer. I hope it is a better expression than previously. Thanks for your help in refining it.

    Also I would like to point out that later in your work you discovered, or pointed out that the Gospel of Thomas has been basically worked on or updated for a long time. I would like to assert that as long as the main point and the message stays in contact then there is no issue

    The problem for the Gospel of Thomas (GTh) is that, within the textual variants, the main point and message have changed.

    At least in the Gospel of Thomas, it is KNOW who wrote it. It is not a GUESS or ASSUMPTION.

    Early tradition suggests who wrote the canonical Gospels. As far as I can see, historically speaking we have no reason to doubt the claims. The GTh, on the other hand, is written too late to have Thomas as its author.

  • KDoyle

    I have a question about the heretical/non-Christian themes involved in the Gospel of Thomas.

    First, I do not see any reasons why these are considered heretical/non-Christian. Your answer does not invalidate any of these themes. I would like to know why they are heretical (i.e. Catholic Church Canon, contradictions in the bible, etc)

    Second, the last example you use is “know oneself”. While I understand that this is a theme that permeates a lot of other religious belief systems, does that truly make this concept invalid? The Gospel of John says, ” 17 …The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” in reference to the holy spirit. Therefore by knowing oneself you are in communion with the holy spirit, your connection to God. I cannot fathom this being heretical.

    I really enjoyed this thesis and think you have some valid points.

    • Luke Buckler

      Hi KDoyle,

      Thanks for the comment. I hope the following is helpful:

      Regarding heterodox themes, etc.: they are unorthodox because they are at variance with the orthodoxy of the teaching in the Bible. But it’s worth saying that not every example above is an example of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy. Some of the examples are demonstrating the ‘synthesises of themes, motifs, expressions and concerns’ the the “Gospel of Thomas” (GTh) makes from various sources. I’d be bold enough to say it might matter where the GTh gets these expressions, motifs, concerns and themes from — it might display the GTh’s real concerns and even where, in the world of beliefs, it came from.

      So part of the point in the main answer above (and sorry if it wasn’t clear) is that the “Gospel of Thomas” (GTh), through its themes and motifs, etc., shows itself to share provenance with non-Christian texts — its affinity is more with these texts than with the Bible. I’ll take your second point as an illustration of this:

      The point in the main answer above is that when the GTh uses the phrase “know yourself” it is showing it shares the same language and thought-world as the other texts that also uses this phrase (e.g. The Book of Thomas the Contender, Poemandres, The Teachings of Silvanus, Dialogue of the Saviour, Allogenes). That is all; but by doing so, the GTh moves away from a consistent continuance of thought with the Bible, and displays its affinity with heterodox, and even non-Christian, texts.

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  • deadlock

    I think it’s important to distinguish between the particular Coptic _version_ of the GThomas we have versus the original tradition. Surely a later editor of the Coptic edition could be aware of later harmonizations found in canonical and other works and use them. This is common even in canonical manuscripts. I don’t think late traditions would be concerned e.g. with James, the brother of Jesus as a leader of the early church in Jerusalem or that they would portray disagreement between apostles. We should not dismiss what could be the most genuine interpretation of Jesus’ teachings based on what we _think_ they should look like.