Thomas is depicted as the youngest disciple.
His doubt is well-chronicled,
but his scripture is less so.
The Gospel of Thomas does not have the formal organization of the four gospels. This lack of apparent order is often used as a complaint against this scripture. Nor does Thomas contain a retelling of Jesus’ life or public ministry, and also contains some references which at first glance are obscure. To its credit, Thomas contains a good body of the essential teachings of Jesus, as there are many sayings and parables well lent to the other four gospels. It does seem that Thomas has captured most of the main elements of Jesus’ teaching, and thus deserves its place alongside the narrative gospels.
In the transcribing of this scripture, Thomas seems to have been asked what Jesus said to him. He does not seem to have been asked about miracles or other matters. There is a sound reason for this. The miracles and life of Jesus were already known to the disciples, and there does not seem a pressing need to retell these events. There is one area, however, where Thomas and the other disciples would have information unknown to the others—that would be to ask, what did Jesus say to you?
The loose thread was to garner the full story of what Jesus spoke, to capture the essence if you will. Also, they could not have a complete compilation of Jesus’ teachings at this point. Jesus would take individuals aside and teach privately. We also know that the traveling groups changed their makeup of disciples, including women, and at other times might be men only. So the effort was to gain every word Jesus taught, thus the lack of emphasis on miracles, the exclusion of specific theologies later presented, and thus to retain the purity of what Jesus spoke. Such seems the Gospel of Thomas.
We also know that men speak differently to men than to women and that women are likely to ask different questions than men. Already the broadening of scripture moves beyond the four gospels to include individual teaching (spoken to one person for only their edification). Jesus also related different information to different groups, such as a group of women, or to the Pharisees. To the poor he gave hope and encouragement; to the rich, he spoke of charity and not being unrighteously tied to money. Thus, we see in the Gospel of Thomas a text loosely organized as a purely cognitive work, and one which also includes the Parable of the Sower.
As for Thomas himself, he seems to well comprehend Jesus’ message. We have in saying 13, “And he took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up.” This exchange seems quite astounding. It would indicate Thomas was either better trusted with higher knowledge or a brother whose waters ran a bit deeper than some of the other disciples. As to the meaning, it is conjectural and what Jesus told him did not sound like anything he had told the others. This disparity leads to the thought that what Jesus expressed may be one of the many secret teachings the Essene coveted.
As Thomas’ work progresses the second half includes more sayings and parables and perhaps less direct teaching. They seem to apply to the condition of man in general, or the ministry in general, such as in saying 73, referring to a great harvest, but few workers. Some sayings even have a parable-like quality that involves brief storytelling to make the point, as in saying 76: Jesus said, “The kingdom of the father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and discovered a pearl. That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. You too, seek this unfailing and enduring treasure where no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys.” Then there are the parables themselves which leave us with a quandary or a question unanswered.
The above leads us to accept that Thomas is providing a cognitive history of Jesus’ ministry rather than a literal history. The Gospel of Thomas is also believed by some scholars to have been source material for the synoptic gospels. Earlier copies of Thomas might not be found, but many scholars believe Thomas is the famous “Q” source manuscript. Archeologists hope more parts of manuscripts might be found, either to corroborate or disavow this view.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus repeated the basic tenets of the Way. He commented on social matters and spiritual interaction (Mt. ch. 5), such as praying for or loving your enemies, as opposed to cursing them. He emphasizes the condition of the heart and the basic heart-teaching of the Way. He speaks to the practice of the Way in Matt. 7.7-20, to ask, seek, and knock, to choose a conservative or narrow pathway, and that you know yourself and others by the fruit they bear.
The early church separated tasks according to skill or ability. In that manner, the Way could be spread more quickly. As the word spreads, Jesus’s outreach ministry develops, with Paul and Peter representing the most notable examples. Although it is not clear how much direct ministry work women did, it can be assumed they worked more quietly and behind the scenes, spoke to and ministered to women, and provided core services. Men could travel greater distances with safety and seem to have done more distant outreach.
Although it is not specific to this text it would be a good time to mention that the early church was not socialist. Jesus did profess a social order emphasizing charity and concern for the poor and disadvantaged. However, if you were unwilling to work you received nothing. The co-op movement, exchanging clothes for food, etc., would probably be closer to the mark. It is the type of help ministry many churches use today.
Many within the early church would seek out Thomas. Thomas would have presented cornerstone teaching and was likely involved in other works of the early church. Since the ministry was new, all those who knew Jesus would have ample opportunity to express themselves. It is possible Thomas spoke at length concerning the scriptures we read today. To exclude Thomas or limit the Gospel of Thomas as a secondary work would not represent what really happened within the early church.
Thomas (1): And he said, “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death.”
Greek POxy: He said to them: “Whoever hears these words shall never taste death.”
John 8.51: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if anyone keeps my word, he shall never see death.”
Jesus speaks Truth, which feeds the soul life and therefore offers eternal life. He expresses eternal truths. Jesus speaks of ‘interpretation’, which tells us that just getting the idea of these truths will not be sufficient, but that these truths must be realized (“finds the interpretation”) in each person’s life. The ‘interpretation’ is a reference to character expression, and not simply mental understanding, similar today to renewing the mind (“keeps my word”). Naturally, this effort requires a pathway, which the sowing of good spiritual seed into good soil is designed to create. The interpretation of these truths into daily life is the ultimate goal.
Oxyrhynchus is the location of discovered ancient manuscripts, parts of the Gospel of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and others (map from Gnostic Society website).*
*See, earlychristianwritings.com for many other commentaries.
(Th. 2) Jesus said, “Let him who seeks to 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.”
The truths or revelations a person finds, oftentimes concerning themselves, are troubling to the soul. We discover a soul nature we previously had not considered ourselves to be. We might be more negative than we thought, or we ascend into our intellect to meet our own justifications for poor behavior. All of this can be perplexing. The hidden knowledge that the spirit now reveals will confront each person’s mortal or earthly understanding and nature.
Within this process of revealment, blessings may also be abundant, and one should not forget the harvest (“and he will rule over All”). Yet, once the perplexity is resolved or better understood, a person becomes astonished at the nature of what he has seen. This confrontation extends each of us into greater knowledge about life, perhaps our own personal pathway, or about God’s nature, thus, the pathway of daily enlightenment is revealed. The reference to ruling over the All, as in, “I am not alone, for the Father is with me,” and, “I have overcome the world (Jn. 16.32-33),” alludes to command over the soul by the Father who is with(in) me (or His spirit). Tribulation is in the world, he tells the disciples, but in me who has overcome this tribulation there lies peace.
(Th. 3) Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known [self-evident], 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.”
Luke 17:21 “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
Both scriptures reference the kingdom of God being within. Both sayings also point to soul-identity, who you are, when Jesus says, “then you will become known…as sons of the living father” (Th. 3), and, “not coming with signs…God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17.21). The Thomas saying points in a clear direction with a known result. The focus is on realizing your sonship.
As to the Luke scripture, we view the world from within outwardly, and viewing as we may, seeing or not seeing, as in “…God in the midst of you.” By nature, we identify with what we see and participate in.
When each person’s sonship is recognized (or accepted) then true soul identity begins to become revealed, as in, “When you come to know yourselves.” That revelation refers to the Child of God’s identity, or since he seems to be talking to men, “the sons of the living father.” This statement is a direct reference to self-knowing, or revelation of true identity. Not coming to grips a person becomes impoverished in their soul, or one might say that they have no realized soul identity, and thus become poverty itself. Also, both scriptures provide a reference to oneness, and infer completeness or wholeness, with the reference to “the kingdom is inside of you and it is outside of you”; “kingdom…in the midst of you.”
The first three sentences referring to birds, fish, and then the kingdom within may be pointing out that one should not be distracted, and quit looking here and there for God and his kingdom, for He (His spirit) is within you just as His kingdom is within you. A kingdom without a king is an empty structure and of no account. In light of this, Jesus then says, [But], “when you come to know yourselves, then you become known” [revealed to yourself and God], and that from this you come into an identity as a child of God. So, Jesus seeks to establish identity through revelation, knowing, or realization. As will later be revealed in Thomas 9, the sowing of good seed will accomplish this task.
These first three scriptures give us a powerful insight into the direction Jesus taught, much more oriented to the person’s relationship and to soul awakening to the spirit of God, moving from stagnating faith into a faith that demonstrates actions.
(Th. 4) Jesus said, “The man old in days will not hesitate to ask a small child seven days old about the place of life, and he will live. For many who are first will become last, and they will become one and the same.”
This saying has a more mystical bent than many others. The child who is seven days old is one day before circumcision, which for Jewish males occurs on the eighth day after birth. This means that the awakening cannot come by way of the old Jewish teachings, that is, the current legalism found in Jesus’ day, but must come from someone who knows himself as a child of God. This new enlightenment provides spiritual life, “…and he will live.”
The first part gives a reference to a child. This is usually considered to represent purity of understanding, and innocence (but not naivety). “The old man in days” would refer to us, tainted and battered by the world as an older person would be. The old man would have had plenty of time to commit many sins, whereas the child of seven days is sinless, pure, and particularly not tainted by the restraints of legalism. In fact, until he is circumcised he is not Jewish, at least officially, and has no constraints toward purity.
The second part is more difficult and does leave room for many varied cognitions. It may be that the first in understanding (the old man) will have to humble himself (intellect & attachment to worldly ways) and thus place himself in contrast to the sinless (the child, spirit), thus he awakens, so that the pure spirit-nature (child) may become one within him, “one and the same” and thus making first and last come together as one. The child of seven days is perfect, reflecting the number seven, thus the child seems to represent the spirit of God within.
With understanding, or what is sometimes referred to as enlightenment, both the old man and child live in the spirit-knowing or revelation, “place of life”. This is not the only scripture where Jesus refers to the first will becoming last and last first. See Mt. 20: 1-16; see Mk. 10: 42-45.
(Th. 5) Jesus said, “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden to you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.”
Matthew 10:26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
Mark 4:22 “For there is nothing hid, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret, except to come to light.
Luke 12:3 “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
In Matthew, Jesus seems to be speaking about others, or the world, and to not fear the world, for they in the world will be revealed, or exposed. However, the main theme seems to convey that you cannot hide, that all will be eventually revealed within you and about you, “except to come to light.” There is the implication of transparency, with nothing to hide, nothing to conceal, nothing to lie about or to deceive. Walking in the Way is illustrated as a revealing walk, “hidden to you will become plain to you.” The walk is in context within the world but remains the province of God.
Within the Thomas scripture it is important to notice that relative to knowledge-wisdom, belief-faith seems to take on a secondary import. One reason for this is that the Jews already believed in God. With the exception of discussions on faith, Jesus assumes belief for the most part. Once the belief is established he seems to be saying that it is then that the true walk begins, and that the true walk is not established within ritual, but revelation.
Jesus tells us that if you can see the road then what must follow is the walk down the road, else nothing further can be seen or revealed. Jesus tells us the soul will be made manifest in any case, and that if you look, the hidden becomes revealed. Sometimes this will be spiritual knowledge and sometimes it will be knowledge about yourself or the world, even knowledge about the nature of God.
Within these first five scriptures, there seems to be a good deal of emphasis by Thomas in discussing the revelation of hidden knowledge whether of the soul or about the world. Saying six seems to have a similar bent.
(Th. 6) His disciples questioned him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet do we observe?”
Jesus said, “Do not tell lies and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered.”
We have in this scripture a questioning of what is proper, but Jesus does not answer specifically. In other words, he does not tell them how to adhere to proper behavior, whatever that may be, within fasting, praying, giving, and eating. For now, however, he speaks about attitude, and not so much what a person does. For instance, don’t go to God praying for your own will and getting your own way, pray in supplication instead, and avoid the attribute of arrogance. In other words, hidden attitudes will be made manifest, and a person cannot help but express them. Take note!
Jesus reminds us again about what will be revealed, and that is what a person may attempt to hide (suppress). From a practical point of view, the activity of hiding puts pressure on the individual. Hiding from your arrogance, stubbornness, and willfulness can create a pressure cooker within the soul. The Wayfarer should take note of this, for it is best to admit who you really are before God. Be who you are! This will push the door open a crack and then allows the spirit of God to enter and enhance. You do not have to tell anyone else, but it is best, to be honest before God. “All things are plain in the sight of heaven.”
(Th. 7) Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”
The ‘lion’ denotes mortal consciousness and is commonly used as a symbol of the earthly mind’s ravenous nature.
The man can be thought of as the forgiven man, the spiritual man, one who is awake, one that has not fallen into the sleep of the flesh and forgotten his divinity. He knows the lion for what it is, the lion of his or her own earthly nature. It must be consumed.
The lion represents the mortal man, who careens through the earth and has succumbed to beastly nature. He is an unenlightened man, a man or woman who has little or no vision for the spirit of God. Drenched in earthly nature and with only the animal mind to guide him, the territorial beast consumes the divine soul mind, leaving him unenlightened, dulled, and unaware that the spirit of God is alive in him.
With that lack of awareness, the loss of many rights ensues. These would include an individual’s right to pursue a spirit-created mind, as opposed to the psychological-created mind; civil and human rights given from God’s view, as opposed to an earth version of what someone thinks is fair and equal; the development of sharper awareness of obligations, as well as considerations that entail others. This loss breaks down the whole of society.
Jesus provides the pathway for the re-emergence of the spiritual man. This re-emergence becomes the daily walk, the sowing of good seeds, good deeds, and speaking and moving in the spirit. Jesus points the way to what you will be. Thus, Jesus knew the implications should this awakening begin to dawn upon the individual. He points to the Way, the future of your soul if you will, as each of us begins to walk with Him in this journey. When the lion is a scourge, a killer, and a consumer of souls, and if we see man as spirit-man by the opposite consuming the scourge of his own character, we see the direction in which Jesus speaks.
[As an aside, resting in the spirit allows for balance within this effort, so one should not take the above as a description of constant engagement with man’s mortal nature. That would be exhausting and would depress the soul besides. It is not you who does the work, it is the spirit. It is hoped the vision taken provides time for insight, rest, restoration, and rejuvenation.]
(Th. 8) And he said, “The man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them, the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Matthew 13:47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind: (48) when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad.”
In Thomas, the phrase, “full of small fish” would indicate a lesser understanding, or understanding of no real value. The kingdom of heaven referred to is within, and to sort the good, but to throw the bad away. In this case, it would not be hard for anyone to choose the larger fish, assuming the person had any sense, for that is the fish with value. Jesus also gives emphasis to making a choice, clear cut, of making sound spiritual decisions and choices by saying, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is another way of saying that the wise choice should be obvious.
In Matthew, the scripture we see is a slightly different kind of sorting. In Matthew, there is more than one good fish, but the rest of the fish are deemed bad, too small, and not worthy of effort, so they are thrown back. This could relate that there are many good understandings to be gathered for the soul, but just like the fisherman, a person has to develop wisdom in which fish to throw out and which to keep. It lends itself to order and wisdom, or order of importance. Within greater revelation, there are usually many detailed understandings, or knowing, which come out of the revelation. Jesus points to the greater revelation within this saying.
(Th. 9) Jesus said, “Now the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered them. Some fell on the road; the birds came and gathered them up. Others fell on the rock, did not take root in the soil, and did not produce ears. And others fell on thorns; they choked the seeds and worms ate them. And others fell on the good soil and it produced good fruit: it bore sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure.”
Matthew 13.3-9; Mark 4.9; Luke 8.8
This saying deals largely with where you are planting a spiritual seed or seed that will grow a good crop, and when harvested will provide bounty. This also deals with attitudes within the soul nature, such as being generally loving-forgiving toward your fellow man, the sincerity of spiritual application, and other similar attributes—where the seed of spirit can take root and grow. Otherwise, the soul nature will not produce any fruit, or the crop will be stunted.
(10) Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.”
Luke 12:49 “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”
This scripture provides insight into the revolutionary consciousness Jesus presents. This scripture does not mince words. Jesus knows full well that what he brings at the behest of the Father will inflame the soul, and bring the soul to the needed confrontation with the spirit. This fire rages for what the spirit craves for the soul, freedom. Jesus’ work would strike at the very heart of man, in mind, will, and emotions.
This fire cannot be of value unless it is kindled in the soul. Not kindled, it would become degraded into an earthly message instead of a celestial one. Further, we can glimpse within the work of Jesus and observe the contentiousness Jesus knew he would create. Each soul will have to come to the measure of the fire kindled in his or her soul. This confrontation is unavoidable and will force a choice—an acceptance, or a denial. The reader might wish to take a few moments, and look with diligence as to what fires burn in his soul. Some fires consume like the lion, mortal, lusting, and violent, whereas the cleansing fire provides peace and deliverance. In either case, the fire will continue to burn until the issue is addressed.
We cannot be sure that at first Jesus knew this fire would spread into the world. Later we see that he did understand that it would, for he later speaks and tells the disciples to take this message of change (repentance) unto all the world and to do so in his name.
This concludes Part One in the discussion of the Gospel of Thomas. It is hoped that these scriptures will be prayed upon so the spirit may provide personal revelation for you. This work is not intended to be an intellectual exercise, and like the other articles is intended to be studied with the individual spirit engaged, and has been written to spur direct knowing in the spirit. Revelation knowledge becomes critical at some point in everyone’s soul development, an understanding more as a living reality, rather than the aforementioned intellectuality. This work, it is hoped, will open many doors for those who Walk in The Way.
When comparing other scripture we sometimes view a more extrapolated theology than we see in Thomas. It would seem that Thomas would not have given countenance to the fundamentalist message, particularly Jn. 3: 15-17, which gives us the scripture (15) “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; (16) that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son; and (17) that the world through him might be saved”. This is usually interpreted relative to belief teachings, commonly known as the orthodoxy, and does not seem to fit in so well within knowing teachings.
Thomas might view the scripture “through him might be saved” as an understanding that through Jesus’ ways or teachings the world might be saved. This message mainly dealt with repentance, or the return to Godly character. In either case, the John scripture seems to exist within isolation, as there is not really a similar statement so succinctly put, and it does seem to have a strong Pauline flavor. Some scholars feel that John has been redacted by Pauline adherents, in part because it was written later (c. A.D 90), and Pauline converts had had two generations of influence.
[Another personal note, I do not disdain Orthodoxy; for belief and faith can truly move mountains, and love-forgiveness remain mainstays of the Orthodox Pauline message. Paul also discusses identity and the transference into the new man Jesus describes (Romans). That’s some heavy lifting, for the people knew very little. Some accuse Paul of being a Pharisee in sheep’s clothing, but Paul left Damascus and went to Arabia, the town of Nazara most likely, and received the same basic priestly training all Essene priests undergo (7 years), including Jesus. Paul moved the Jewish Messiah rooted in the Torah, to a more universal Messiah (Christ), of which the past must now fall away. The lament of Paul that he can only give them milk instead of meat indicates more could have been given, but we shall never know what he really wanted to tell them. Paul is also accredited with many healings, such performance does not emerge from lack.] Even so, Thomas has nothing to say about the belief-sacrifice-salvation message. Thomas’ work seems to move in Jesus’ direct speaking, cognitive not of the intellect (understanding) but of the spirit (cleansed, realized). Yet, in what Thomas provides, Jesus does not mention the belief-salvation message.
We do see in Thomas a general theme of internal agreement, and perhaps he does the best job of tying gnostic gospels to the three synoptic gospels. Many scholars believe Thomas is the seminal gospel for Mark, Matthew, and Luke. We also know that Thomas, Matthew, and Philip were given responsibility for organizing the written work or putting down in writing the teachings of Jesus. With this effort comes the narrative gospel, but also the cognitive gospel. We see belief emphasized within the narrative gospels more so, yet when we leave belief to enter into a deeper realization we then see the cognitive or knowing works as Thomas presents them.
We begin to see various mysteries revealed—the parable of the sower, the wise fisherman, the pearl of great value, and that he who thinks they are so wise may need to begin again (old man and the child, first and last). That is one reason Thomas is given a special place in this work. It goes to the heart of Jesus’ teaching, which is seen as knowledge and performance, wise choosing, and other similar attributes. In essence, he gives us some of the teachings not given to the public; his work resides with those more interested in the deeper study. He writes out specifically what Jesus said, providing new understanding, and sourcing other gospel statements.