Gnostic Gospels

The Gospel of Thomas
Adult Sunday School
January-March 2008
Nathan Love
The Gospel of Thomas
This class will explore over some ten weeks the Gospel of Thomas
recently brought to light in the treasure trove of largely gnostic
compositions stumbled upon by an Arab peasant, quite by accident, in
1945 in Egypt. The Gospel of Thomas (only one of a number of noncanonical gospels) contains the sayings of Jesus purportedly recorded
by the disciple Thomas. We will explore the sayings themselves, make
comparisons with the four gospels of the New Testament, all of which
will allow us to enter into discussions concerning mystery religions then
prevalent offering formulae for personal salvation through various rites
and wisdom traditions, especially in communities in Alexandria, Egypt,
where both Christian thinkers and Jewish philosophers of a neoplatonic mind set attempted to fill in the gaps, so to speak, of the four
gospels whose authority and faithfulness church tradition has
consistently upheld. The text of the Gospel of Thomas has become
widely available in print (The Gospel According to Thomas, HarperCollins, ed. James M. Robinson) and on the Internet:
( Two other books
widely available and of particular interest are The Gnostic Gospels
(1985) and Beyond Belief (2003), both by Elaine Pagels. The latter
book offers an intriguing and plausible – but by no means convincing –
theory that speaks to a dynamic relationship she believes exists
between the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas.
Outline of Content
How many gospels are there, anyway?
Alexander and Alexandria and the importance of Greek
Greek in Palestine and Egypt
What is Coptic?
Papyri and codices
The Nag Hammadi Library
Other gospels in the Nag Hammadi Library
The four gospels of the New Testament
The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke
The Gospel of John
The words of Jesus
Q (> Quelle) oral or written tradition of transmission
As Jesus taught his disciples, Thomas, Mary, Judas….
Thomas the disciple / apostle / ‘twin’
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
The Gospel Of Thomas
The five gospels
Gnostic gospels Web site
Interactive quizzes
How many gospels are there, anyway?
Answer: About 20 more or less complete ones.
Significant descriptions or portions of twelve ancient texts that
meet the criteria necessary to be considered an early
(indisputably written before the end of the second century)
gospel have been preserved from antiquity. Six early gospels
are attested by manuscripts from the second century or shortly
thereafter: Matthew, Luke, John, Gospel of Thomas,
Gospel of Peter, and an “Unknown Gospel” (P.Egerton 2).
Six additional early gospels are attested by patristic citations
from the same time period: Mark (Irenaeus), Secret Mark,
Gospel of the Ebionites (Irenaeus), Gospel of the
Nazareans (Eusebius), Gospel of the Hebrews (Clement),
and Marcion’s gospel (Irenaeus).
Gospel of Mary of Magdala, Infancy Gospel of James (The
Protoevangelium of James), Infancy Gospel of Thomas,
Gospel of Phillip
How many gospels are there, anyway?
How many gospels are there, anyway?
Turbaned midwives attend the
infant Jesus in this oil painting
of “The Nativity” (c. 1425)
attributed to the Netherlandish
artist Robert Campin.
According to the Proto-Gospel
of James, an early—but
noncanonical—Christian text,
Joseph summoned the
women to assist at Jesus’
birth. One midwife, named
Salome, questioned Mary’s
virginity, the gospel continues.
She swore, “Unless I put
(forward) my finger and test
her condition, I will not believe
that a virgin has brought
forth.” Fire consumed the
incredulous midwife’s hand as
she tested Mary until an angel
instructed her to touch Jesus
to be cured. In Campin’s
painting, Salome displays her
healed hand.
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon/Erich Lessing
How many gospels are there, anyway?
Another representation of the
Nativity in a large-scale Byzantine
fresco (c. 1175) in the Church of
Karanlik Kilise in Turkey is
interesting not only for its two
midwives, but for locating the birth
of Jesus in a cave and including an
ox and a donkey. The nativity site,
not pinpointed by the evangelists, is
most often a stable in Western art,
but in Eastern art, it is usually a
cave. Nor are the familiar animal
creche figures, so ubiquitous today,
found in the canonical gospels.
The earliest written source we have for the ox and the donkey is the Gospel of
Pseudo-Matthew, which scholars date to about the year 800, yet these animals
were carved in stone on a fourth-century Roman sarcophagus lid, now part of
the pulpit of the Church of St. Ambrose in Milan.
Isaiah 1:3 “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel
does not know, my people do not understand.”
Alexander and Alexandria and the
importance of Greek
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), the king of Macedonia that conquered the
Persian empire and annexed it to Macedonia, is considered one of the greatest
military geniuses of all times. Here he is depicted in a mosaic preserved in Pompeii.
He is the first king to be called "the Great." For Judaism and Christianity the
implications are profound and extensive, positive and negative.
Alexander and Alexandria and the importance of Greek
From: Atlas of the Bible Lands Editor: Harry Thomas Frank
Alexander and Alexandria and the importance of Greek
Josephus the Jewish historian wrote about the
warning signs that were on the barrier that separated
the court of the gentiles from the other courts in the
Temple. Not until recent times did archaeologists
actually discover one. Its seven-line inscription read
as follows:
Greek in Palestine and Egypt
By the middle of the first century, there are probably more Jews
living outside of the homeland, than actually live back in Judah
proper. This is what is called the Diaspora, that is, the dispersion
of Jewish population throughout the Empire. There are major
Jewish communities in most of the large cities of the Empire, all
the way from the Persian Gulf on the east to Spain on the west.
It's an extensive diffusion of the Jewish population throughout
the Roman.
The Greek word ‘diaspora’ means a scattering. And indeed there
was a scattering of Jews throughout the known Greek and
Roman world from the third century B.C. and on down.
There were large Jewish communities in Egypt, especially in
Alexandria, but even throughout the countryside, up the Nile
Alexandria is an ancient metropolis with a fabled library that
Paul may have consulted at one point in his ministry. It is a
center of learning and scholarship.
Greek in Palestine and Egypt
The language that unites the far-flung Roman Empire is Greek.
The Jews of Alexandria need the scriptures translated into
Greek (the Septuagint, LXX, i.e., 70 elder translators). The
earliest extant copies of NT writings are in Greek or a colloquial
Greek dialect (koine).
It has been pointed out that Jesus was aware of Greek
(‘hypocrite’, Greek for ‘actor’).
Egypt is prominent in the NT (as well as the OT). Jesus spends
part of his infancy there (Matthew). The Egyptian miracle
worker seems to move with ease in Palestine until his
disappearance just outside Jerusalem.
What is Coptic?
When the Egyptian language is written with the
Greek alphabet (plus a few letters for sounds
Greeks did not make), it is called Coptic.
Visual arts associated with the Greek- and
Egyptian-speaking Christian peoples of Egypt
from about the 3rd to the 12th century AD. It is
essentially reflected in the stone reliefs, wood
carvings, and wall paintings of the monasteries
of Egypt.
With the creation of Alexandria in 332 BC, Hellenization came to
Egypt, together with first the art of the Greeks, and then that of
the Romans, which began to overlay that of the more ancient
Egyptian styles. It was in this setting that Christianity arrived in
Egypt and it was here that the rich flavor of Coptic (Egyptian
Christian) art evolved.
What is Coptic?
and Saint
Mina. 6thcentury
icon from
now in
Papyri and codices
Papyri and codices
The twelve codices are essentially twelve books. The roll was
the usual form of a book up until the first century C.E., when
it began to be replaced by a more economical format that
permitted writing on both sides, namely the modern book with
individual leaves or a ‘codex’, the Latin word for a set of
wooden waxed tablets tied together as a scratch pad, which
was the ancestor of the book with papyrus, parchment,or
paper leaves. Whereas literary works continued to be written
in the more prestigious form of the scroll, Christians (but not
Jews) soon came to prefer the more economical codex.
In Egypt the most common writing material was papyrus. The
triangular stalk of the papyrus plant is filled with fibrous pith
that can be cut or peeled off in long thin strips. These strips
are laid side by side and then dried, and polished it becomes
a flexible, smooth, and durable writing surface.
The Nag Hammadi Library
The Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of fourth-century papyrus
manuscripts contained in twelve codices plus eight leaves of a
thirteenth codex, was discovered in upper Egypt in 1945. There
are 52 separate tractates. Due to duplications there are 45
separate titles. This immensely important discovery includes a
large number of primary gnostic scriptures -- texts once thought
to have been entirely destroyed during the early Christian
struggle to define "orthodoxy" -- scriptures such as the Gospel
of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Truth.
The discovery and translation of the Nag Hammadi library,
completed in the 1970's, has provided impetus to a major reevaluation of early Christian history and the nature of
The Nag Hammadi Library
It was on a December day in the year of 1945, near the town of
Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, that the course of gnostic studies
was radically renewed and forever changed. An Arab peasant,
digging around a boulder in search of fertilizer for his fields,
happened upon an old, rather large red earthenware jar. Hoping
to have found a buried treasure, and with due hesitation and
apprehension about the jinn who might attend such a hoard, he
smashed the jar open. Inside he discovered no treasure and no
genie, but instead books: more than a dozen old codices bound
in golden brown leather. Little did he realize that he had found an
extraordinary collection of ancient texts, manuscripts hidden a
millennium and a half before -- probably by monks from the
nearby monastery of St. Pachomius seeking to preserve them
from a destruction ordered by the church as part of its violent
expunging of heterodoxy and heresy.
The Nag Hammadi Library
Nag Hammadi Texts - Codex IV
Both the codex and the pages in it
were created in circa 400 A.D.
The Nag Hammadi Library
The focus that brought the collection together is an estrangement
from the mass of humanity, an affinity to an ideal order that
completely transcends life as we know it, and a life-style radically
other than common practice. This life-style involved giving up all
the goods that people usually desire and longing for an ultimate
liberation. It is not an aggressive revolution that is intended, but
rather a withdrawal from involvement in the contamination that
destroys clarity of vision.
The texts were translated one by one from Greek into Coptic,
and not always by translators capable of grasping the profundity
or sublimity of what they sought to translate. The translator of a
brief section of Plato’s Republic clearly did not understand the
text, though it obviously seemed edifying and worth translating.
Those who collected this library were Christians, and many of the
essays were originally composed by Christian authors.
Other gospels in the Nag Hammadi Library
The Apocryphon of James – very brief containing
some words of the Lord, The Gospel of Truth – not
really a ‘gospel’ except in the sense of good news, more
a homily, The Gospel of Philip – not a gospel in NT
sense, just an occasional word or deed of Jesus, talks
about Mary, mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, “the
one who was called his companion,” The Book of
Thomas the Contender – a revelation dialogue
between the resurrected Jesus and his twin brother
Judas Thomas, ostensibly recorded by Mathaias (the
apostle Matthew?) at a time just before Jesus’ ascention,
The Gospel of the Egyptians – is not that cited in
Patristic literature, but is rather about the life of Seth
(third son of Adam and Eve) as father of the gnostic
race, The Gospel of Mary – contains dialogue between
the risen Savior and the disciples, followed by the
Savior’s special revelation to Mary Magdalene It first
came to light in 1896 in Cairo.
The four gospels of the New Testament
Mark written 65-75, Crucified Christ
Matthew written 80-90, Teaching Christ
Luke written 80-100, Universal Christ
John written 90-100, Eternal Christ becomes flesh
The four gospels are anonymous, but attributed from earliest
tradition to apostles. The dates of composition remain
uncertain, and, in some cases, controversial.
They were likely preceded by vibrant oral traditions about
what Jesus said and did with the Passion narrative at their
core. These traditions were circulated in various
communities where they were given context and meaning
for worship and resolution of problems and questions arising
in communities of followers.
The four gospels of the New Testament – canon
The four gospels are canonical; the Gospel of Thomas is
apocryphal. The terms canonical and apocryphal have
specific meanings in traditional Christianity.
Canonical writings are those that are exclusively to be used
"in the church" as its official writings.
1. Their most common use is in the liturgy: The compositions
of the Old and New Testaments are read aloud and
preached on, for the formation of a certain community
2. These are also the compositions used in public debates
over doctrine and morals in the public community (see
Apocryphal writings are available for individual reading.
Some, but by no means all, were condemned as heretical;
some were extremely popular, but at the level of personal
The four gospels of the New Testament – canon
What about canon? For this discussion I am indebted to Dr.
Luke Timothy Johnson, Professor of New Testament and
Christian Origins, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia.
The historical process of identifying sacred texts as canon
involved several discrete stages, but at no stage was there a
conspiracy. Community traditions were used in the
composition of the earliest letters and Gospels. By the end
of the first century, we can detect in Christian writers the
process of collecting writings that are regarded as
authoritative. The stage of selection is demanded by the
crisis of self-definition in Christianity's second century, a
crisis that involved both books and ideologies. On one side
was the challenge of contraction: In different ways, Tatian
and Marcion saw the traditional Gospels as too many. On
the other side was the challenge of expansion: Some new
compositions claimed revelational authority but also
challenged traditional collection.
The four gospels of the New Testament – canon
These challenges made it necessary for the first time to
"name one's sources" in conversations and controversies.
The response of late-2nd -century teachers, such as
Tertullian and Irenaeus, was to refute the teachings of the
"heretics" but also to establish an "orthodox" strategy of selfdefinition.
1. A set number of compositions exists that accurately if not
adequately "measure" Christian existence: the canon of the
Old and New Testaments.
2. These compositions are to be read within the "measure"
of the rule of faith: the creed.
3. The authoritative interpretation of these compositions and
creed; is invested in a public teaching office: the bishops
who are the apostolic successors.
The consequence is that Christianity is defined in public and
institutional terms; these positions are subsequently ratified
in the 4th century.
The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke
The synoptic gospels (from
Greek, συν, syn, ‘together’, and
όπσις, opsis, ‘seeing’) share
similarities that distinguish them
from the fourth canonical gospel,
The synoptic gospels share the
same sayings of Jesus as well as
the same sequence of events.
On the other hand, each of the
three synoptic gospels offers
unique witnesses to both Jesus’
words and deeds. At times, they
seem to disagree on matters that
have puzzled many over the
The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke
How is it that three accounts,
seemingly so consistent in
their treatment of words and
deeds of Jesus, can often
This has become known as
the synoptic problem.
Attempts to explain the
interrelationships of the
synoptic gospels are
numerous, varied, and date
back to the fourth century
after Christ.
The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke
Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea,
devised a method that enabled scholars to
find parallel texts.
In the 5th century, Augustine of Hippo
developed what was later known as the
Augustinian hypothesis, which proposed
why these three gospels were so
similar. In this view, the gospels were
written in order of presentation, but that
Mark was Matthew's "lackey and
abbreviator" and that Luke drew from
both sources.
The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke
1. Agreement between Matthew and Luke begins where Mark
begins and ends where Mark ends.
2. Matthew reproduces about 90% of Mark, Luke about 50%. They
often reproduce Mark in the same order. When they disagree,
either Matthew or Luke supports the sequence in Mark.
3. In segments the three share, agreement averages about 50% .
4. When there is this “triple tradition,” Matthew and Mark often
agree against Luke, and Luke and Mark often agree against
Matthew. On the other hand, Matthew and Luke only rarely agree
against Mark.
Many, if not most, scholars have concluded that Mark was written
before Matthew and Luke and that Matthew and Luke used Mark
as the fundamental source for narrative information about Jesus
in their gospels, to which they added other materials.
The synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke
The Gospel of John
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks somewhat mysteriously in
parables and aphorisms. He has little to say about himself. He is
baptized by John, and announces the coming of the kingdom of
God. Jesus performs many healings and exorcisms. His temple
incident comes as a sort of climax prior to his arrest.
In John’s gospel, his baptism is presupposed rather than
mentioned. Jesus speaks in long discourses and reflects
extensively on his mission and person. There are no exorcisms.
The temple incident happens early on. Foot washing seems to
replace the last supper.
If the synoptic gospels have proved useful in imagining the
historical Jesus, John’s gospel has provided a portrait of the
Christ of faith. Jesus is not only Messiah but the Son of God, as
It is interesting that the earliest copy is found in Egypt.
The words of Jesus
The early Jesus movement or the early Church had, at some
point, to preserve the saying and teachings of Jesus. Obviously,
the four canonical Gospels are of paramount importance in this
regard to the early followers of Christ and to each succeeding
generation, including our own.
Some occur in only one Gospel, others in all three Synoptic
Gospels, and others in only two of the Synoptic Gospels
(especially Matthew and Luke). For the most part, all the sayings
recorded in Mark occur in one form or another in both Matthew
and Luke; however, Matthew and Luke also contain some 250
verses of sayings that are similar, at times identical, to one
another but that do not occur in Mark. These include the
Beatitudes and other portions of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.
5-7, Luke 6; 9).
Q (> Quelle) oral or written tradition of transmission
These 250 verses of similar material not found in Mark include
the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the parable of the lost
sheep. Since this material is often nearly verbatim in Greek in
Matthew and Luke, it suggests that the oral tradition had at
some earlier stage been translated from Aramaic into Greek.
This translation may indicate a separate transmission from
what we read in Mark as a “sayings source” for Jesus’ teaching.
It does not include narrative features or miracles of Jesus’ life;
only his words. Biblical scholars usually call it Q (from the
German Quelle meaning ‘source’) or the Synoptic Sayings
Source – or even Sayings Gospel – , and date this hypothetical
material between 50 and 70 C.E. It is unclear whether it had
already been written down in a fixed order since Matthew and
Luke arrange the sayings differently.
Q (> Quelle) oral or written tradition of transmission
Whether written or oral, the Q tradition seems to reflect an early
stage in the transmission of the oral tradition in the life of the
early Christian communities.
Combining the most accepted solution to the synoptic problem
with the Q tradition, it would seem that Matthew and Luke used
two major, earlier sources, Mark and Q, to compose their
respective Gospels. Each used Mark as their baseline outline but
modified Mark by reordering material from Mark and inserting the
Q material in unique ways.
The only form in which Q is preserved is precisely that found in
Matthew and Luke, and perhaps the Gospel of Thomas!
The four gospels of the New Testament
The Gospel of Thomas has 47 parallels to Q (i.e., words
common to Matt. & Luke but not in Mark), 17 parallels to
Matthew, four to Luke and five to John.
Mark written 65-75, Papias (c.a. 130 C.E.)
suggests that the Gospel was written by Mark)
Matthew written 80-90, Papias names the Gospel
Matthew, according to Eusebius.
Luke written 80-100, In the 2nd century only, it was
suggested that Luke, the companion of Paul is the
John written 90-100, About 180 C.E., Irenaeus reports a
tradition according to which John, son of Zebedee,
was the author, although others ascribed it to John
the elder in Ephesus, and still other ascribed it to the
beloved disciple (mentioned in John).
As Jesus taught his disciples
In Mark 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and others
around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The
secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to
those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
‘and ever hearing but never understanding …’”
In Mark 13, Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem. Peter,
James, John and Andrew approached him privately, “Tell us,
when will all these things happen? And what will be the sign
that they are about to be fulfilled?
In Mark 14, Jesus goes to pray in Gethsemane, and he takes
with him Peter, James and John.
In Mark 15, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and
Salome go to Jesus’ tomb only to discover that Jesus had
arisen. “When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he
appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven
seven demons.
As Jesus taught his disciples
Traditions grew up according to which Jesus taught more or
differently to his 12 disciples, if not more or differently to
certain of his 12 disciples.
Gnosticism, as it developed in Christian circles, made just
such a claim. And a gnostic believer was/is one who has
gained insight into the secret teachings of Jesus.
The Gospel of Thomas begins, “These are the secret
sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas
Thomas recorded. “
Duccio's Calling of the Apostles
Peter and Andrew
Thomas the disciple / apostle / twin
Is this Thomas after whom the Gospel of Thomas is named
Thomas the disciple, that is, the Doubting Thomas?
Is this rather meant to be a twin brother of Jesus?
The Gospel of Thomas begins, “These are the secret sayings
that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas
recorded. “ Both ‘Didymos’ and ‘Thomas’ mean ‘twin’.
Didymus Judas Thomas was revered in the Syrian church as
an apostle (Matt. 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15). He was also
revered as the twin brother of Jesus (so claimed by the Acts of
Thomas, a 3rd-century work). This attribution likely tells us
more about where the gospel was written; it tells us nothing
about the author!
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Orphic mysteries or Orphism, religious cult of ancient
Greece, prominent in the 6th cent. B.C. According to legend
Orpheus founded these mysteries and was the author of the
sacred poems from which the Orphic doctrines were drawn.
From the ashes of the Titans sprang the human race, who
were part divine (Dionysus) and part evil (Titan). This double
aspect of human nature, the Dionysian and the Titanic, is
essential to the understanding of Orphism. The Orphics
affirmed the divine origin of the soul, but it was through
initiation into the Orphic Mysteries and through the process of
transmigration that the soul could be liberated from its Titanic
inheritance and could achieve eternal blessedness. Orphism
stressed a strict standard of ethical and moral conduct.
Initiates purified themselves and adopted ascetic practices
(e.g., abstinence from eating animal flesh) for the purpose of
purging evil and cultivating the Dionysian side of the human
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Cult of Osiris (or Sarapis) Ptolemaic
adaptation of ancient Egyptian religious
tradition of Isis and Osiris. The cult of
Osiris had a particularly strong interest
towards the concept of immortality.
Plutarch recounts one version of the myth
surrounding the cult in which Set (Osiris's
brother) fooled Osiris into getting into a
coffin, which he then shut, had sealed
with lead and threw into the Nile. Osiris's
wife, Isis, searched for his remains until
she finally found him embedded in a tree
trunk. She used a spell she had learned
from her father and brought him back to
life so he could impregnate her.
Osiris, lord of the dead.
His green skin
symbolizes rejuvenation.
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Cult of Osiris After they finished, he died again, so she hid
his body in the desert. Months later, she gave birth to
Horus. While she was off raising him, Set had been out
hunting one night and he came across the body of Osiris.
Enraged, he tore the body into fourteen pieces and
scattered them throughout the land. Isis gathered up all the
parts of the body, less the phallus which was eaten by a fish
thereafter considered taboo by the Egyptians, and
bandaged them together for a proper burial. The gods were
impressed by the devotion of Isis and thus restored Osiris
to life in the form of a different kind of existence as the god
of the underworld.
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Mithraic Mysteries - Mithras This cult came into the Pax
Romana from older Hindu myth, but became a “mystery
cult”during the Roman second century, especially.
In every Mithraic temple, the place of
honor was occupied by a tauroctony, a
representation of Mithras killing a sacred
bull which was associated with spring.
Mithras is depicted as an energetic
young man, wearing a Phrygian cap, a
short tunic that flares at the hem, pants
and a cloak which furls out behind him.
Mithras grasps the bull so as to force it
into submission, with his knee on its
back and one hand forcing back its head
while he stabs it in the neck with a short
sword. The figure of Mithras is usually
shown at a diagonal angle and with the
face turned forward.
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Mithraic Mysteries - Mithras Mithraism began to attract
attention in Rome around the end of the first century.
Statius mentions the typical Mithraic relief in his Thebaid
(Book i. 719,720), around 80 CE. The earliest material
evidence for the Roman worship of Mithras dates from that
period, in a record of Roman soldiers who came from the
military garrison at Carnuntum in the Roman province of
Upper Pannonia.
By the year 200, Mithraism had spread widely through the
army, and also among traders and slaves. During festivals
all initiates were equals including slaves. The German
frontiers have yielded most of the archaeological evidence
of its prosperity: small cult objects connected with Mithras
turn up in archaeological digs from Romania to Hadrian's
Mystery religions and personal salvation
Mithraic Mysteries – Mithras Some commentators
surmise that the Mithraists worshipped Mithras as the
mediator between Man and the supreme God of the upper
and nether world. Other commentators have additionally
labeled Mithraism as a mystery religion with a life-deathrebirth deity, comparable to Isis, or Persephone/Demeter,
the cult of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Evaluation of the relationship of early Christianity with
Mithraism has traditionally been based on the polemical
testimonies of the 2nd century Church fathers, such as
Justin's accusations that the Mithraists were diabolically
imitating the Christians.
All three of these mystery religions, whatever else they
taught, promised a means to personal salvation beyond the
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Early Christian writers were Platonic or neo-Platonic in
character (w/ an admixture of Stoicism). Pagan philosophers
attacked the Church and her doctrine. Christian apologists and
theologians were inclined to borrow the weapons of their
In Tertullian's eyes, pagan philosophy was little more than the
foolishness of this world, whereas Clement of Alexandria
considered it a gift from God, a means of educating the pagan
world for Christ. Clement argued that Greek philosophy had been
given by God to mankind as a second source of truth,
comparable to the Hebrew revelation. He believed, as had
Justin Martyr thought before him, that Plato had borrowed his
wisdom from Moses and the prophets.
Just as Philo of Alexandria had tried to reconcile Greek
philosophy with the Old Testament, so Clement tried to reconcile
Greek philosophy with the Christian religion. For Clement,
Socrates and Plato were not pagan thinkers; they prefigured
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Marcianus Aristides, a philosopher of Athens, wrote an apology
in 140 CE in which he identifies the designer and mover of the
world as the Christian God, of whom he predicates the attributes
of eternity, perfection, incomprehensibility, wisdom, and
Justin Martyr wrote later in the second century in his Dialogue
with Trypho that philosophy a most precious gift of God,
designed to lead man to God. Justin explored Stoicism, then
consulted the Peripatetics (inspired after Aristotle), turned next to
Pythagorean philosophy, but found his lack of familiarity with
music, geometry and astronomy made him ill fit for such study. At
last, he turned to the Platonists and their doctrine of the
immaterial Ideas with which he was delighted to find it gave him
a clear vision of God. Eventually, another Christian showed him
the inadequacy of Platonism whereupon Justin adopted a
negative and hostile attitude to Greek philosophy.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Justin associated the neo-Platonic term Demiurge (designer of
the world) with God. He also believed that Socrates endeavored
to lead people from falsehood into truth, as the instrument of
Logos, but was put to death by evil men as an impious atheist.
Socrates professed that he did not fear for his immortal soul,
believing as he did in reward and punishment after death. Justin
saw a parallel with Christians, who follow and obey the
Incarnate Logos and who denounce false gods but who are
termed atheists. Just as the work of Socrates was a preparation
for the complete work of Christ, so the condemnation of Socrates
was, as it were, a rehearsal or anticipation of the condemnation
of Christ and His followers.
Tatian, who was likely a pupil of Justin, maintains that the Word,
proceeding from the simple essence of God, does not 'fall into
the void', as human words do, but remains in its subsistence and
is the divine instrument of creation. In explaining the doctrine of
creation, he uses language reminiscient of the Timaeus in
respect of the Demiurge.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Athenagoras wrote a Plea for Christians in 177 CE, addressed
to the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, in which he
defends Christians against the three accusations of atheism,
cannabalistic feasts and incest. He cites numerous Greek
philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics. He quotes
Plato in the Timaeus. He proves that there cannot be a multitude
of material gods, that God, who forms matter, must transcend
matter, that the Cause of perishable must be imperishable and
spiritual, and he appeals to the testimony of Plato. Athenagoras,
like Justin Martyr, adopts the view that there is one true
'philosophy' or wisdom. It is attained adequately only through the
Christian revelation, though Greek philosphers divined
something of the truth.
470 BCE - 399 BCE
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Justin Martyr writing to Roman Senate:
And those who by human birth were more ancient than Christ,
when they attempted to consider and prove things by reason,
were brought before the tribunals as impious persons and
busybodies. And Socrates, who was more zealous in this
direction than all of them, was accused of the very same crimes
as ourselves. For they said that he was introducing new
divinities, and did not consider those to be gods whom the state
recognized. […] and he exhorted them to become acquainted
with the God who was to them unknown, by means of the
investigation of reason, […] But these things our Christ did
through His own power. For no one trusted in Socrates so as to
die for this doctrine, but in Christ, who was partially known even
by Socrates (for He was and is the Word who is in every man,
and who foretold the things that were to come to pass both
through the prophets and in His own person when He was made
of like passions, and taught these things) […]
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Justin Martyr writing to Roman Senate (continued):
For I myself, too, when I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato,
and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of
death, and of all other-things which are counted fearful,
perceived that it was impossible that they could be living in
wickedness and pleasure. For what sensual or intemperate man,
or who that counts it good to feast on human flesh, could
welcome death that he might be deprived of his enjoyments, and
would not rather continue always the present life […] and we
have the unbegotten and ineffable God as witness both of our
thoughts and deeds. For why did we not even publicly profess
[…] that the mysteries of Saturn are performed when we slay a
man, and that when we drink our fill of blood, as it is said we
do, we are doing what you do before that idol you honor, and on
which you sprinkle the blood not only of irrational animals, but
also of men, making a libation of the blood of the slain by the
hand of the most illustrious and noble man among you?
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
These Apologists wrote in Greek and were mainly concerned
with answering pagan attacks on Christiany.
Two other early Christian thinkers who wrote in Greek are St.
Irenaeus and Hippolytus, both of whom were opponents of a
movement that flourish in the second century, gnosticism.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
The term ‘Neo-Platonism' is a modern construction. It derives its
name from the fact that its first representatives drew their
inspiration from Plato's doctrines, although many of the treatises
on which they relied are not genuine works of Plato. It originated
in Egypt. It is classical, pagan philosophy.
Plotinus, the great third-century thinker, is often
considered the 'founder' of Neo-Platonism.
Plotinus, is responsible for the grand synthesis of
progressive Christian and gnostic ideas with the
traditional Platonic philosophy. He answered the
challenge of accounting for the emergence of a
seemingly inferior and flawed cosmos from the
perfect mind of the divinity by declaring outright
that all objective existence is but the external selfexpression of an inherently contemplative deity
known as the One, or the Good.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
The Cosmos, in Plotinian terms, is to be understood as the
concrete result or 'product' of the Soul's experience of its own
Mind (nous). Ideally, this concrete expression should serve the
Soul as a reference-point for its own self-conscious existence;
however, the Soul all too easily falls into the error of valuing the
expression over the principle (arkhê), which is the contemplation
of the divine Forms.
Speusippus (Plato's successor in the Academy) taught that the
One is utterly transcendent and "beyond being.” It is God. God
exceeds all the categories of finite thought. It is not correct to say
that He is a Being, or a Mind. He is over-Being, over-Mind. The
only attributes which may be appropriately applied to Him are
Good and One. Plotinus declares that the One is "alone with
itself" and ineffable.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
The One does not act to produce a cosmos or a spiritual order,
but simply generates from itself, effortlessly, a power (dunamis)
which is at once the Intellect (nous) and the object of
contemplation (theôria) of this Intellect.
While Plotinus suggests that the One subsists by thinking itself
as itself, the Intellect subsists through thinking itself as other,
and therefore becomes divided within itself: this act of division
within the Intellect is the production of Being, which is the very
principle of expression or discursivity. For this reason, the
Intellect stands as Plotinus' sole First Principle.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Plotinus, like his older contemporary, the Christian philosopher
Origen of Alexandria, views the descent of the soul into the
material realm as a necessary moment in the unfolding of the
divine Intellect, or God. For this reason, the descent itself is not
an evil, for it is a reflection of God's essence. Both Origen and
Plotinus place the blame for experiencing this descent as an evil
squarely upon the individual soul. Of course, these thinkers held,
respectively, quite different views as to why and how the soul
experiences the descent as an evil; but they held one thing in
common: that the rational soul will naturally choose the Good,
and that any failure to do so is the result of forgetfulness or
acquired ignorance. But whence this failure? Origen gave what,
to Plotinus' mind, must have been a quite unsatisfactory answer:
that souls pre-existed as spiritual beings, and when they
desired to create or 'beget' independently of God, they all fell into
error, and languished there until the coming of Logos Incarnate.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
This view has more than a little gnostic flavor to it, which would
have sat ill with Plotinus, who was a great opponent of
Striving for or desiring salvation was not, for Plotinus, an excuse
for simply abandoning oneself to faith or prayer or unreflective
religious rituals; rather, salvation was to be achieved through the
practice of philosophical investigation, of dialectic.
Plotinus is able to assert, in the same breath, that both life and
death are good. He says this because life is the moment in which
the soul expresses itself and revels in the autonomy of the
creative act. However, this life, since it is characterized by action,
eventually leads to exhaustion. Death is the relief of this
exhaustion, and the return to a state of contemplative repose.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
In 529, Justinian closed the school of Athens. Damascius, the
Aristotlean commentator Simplicius, and five other Neoplatonists
set out for Persia, hoping they would be able to teach and
continue there under Chosroes I. But conditions were
unfavorable, and they were allowed to return to Athens.
Neo-Platonism was the last of the
great Hellenistic systems of thought
to fall. Yet quite a lot of it did survive
in Christian and Islamic form.
Justinian I, Emperor of the Eastern
Roman Empire. Justinian depicted
on one of the famous mosaics of
the Basilica of San Vitale,
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Gnosticism (Greek: γνώσις gnōsis, knowledge) refers to a
diverse, syncretistic religious movement consisting of various
belief systems generally united in the teaching that humans are
divine souls trapped in a material world created by an imperfect
spirit, the demiurge, who is frequently identified with the
Abrahamic God. The demiurge may be depicted as an
embodiment of evil, or in other instances as merely imperfect
and as benevolent as its inadequacy permits. This demiurge
exists alongside another remote and unknowable supreme being
that embodies good. In order to free oneself from the inferior
material world, one needs gnosis, or esoteric spiritual
knowledge available to all through direct experience or
knowledge (gnosis) of God. Jesus of Nazareth is identified by
some gnostic sects as an embodiment of the supreme being who
became incarnate to bring gnosis to the Earth. In others he was
thought to be a gnosis teacher, and yet others, nothing more
than a man.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
Gnosticism was popular in the Mediterranean and middle eastern
regions in the second and third centuries, though some scholars
claim it was suppressed and was actually popular as early as the
first century, predating Jesus Christ as a dualistic heresy in areas
controlled by the Roman Empire when Christianity became its
state religion in the fourth century.
Gnosticism holds an enormous appeal for people at the turn of
the millennium. It offered personal salvation as did the mystery
religions like those we have already mentioned: Orphic
mysteries, Cult of Osiris, Mithraic Mysteries. As with these
cults, Gnosticism made its adherents feel as though they were
sharing special knowledge, knowledge that was esoteric,
knowledge that they could keep for themselves, that the rulers
and the rich were not necessarily privy to for being rulers or
It is also eclectic, it combines a number of diverse beliefs with
ease, resulting in a correspondingly wide appeal.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
As with Neo-Platonism, gnosticism came with philosophic
underpinnings – or at least – philosophic terminology, precisely
because gnosticism borrows concepts from Neo-Platonism. Thus
gnosticism appeals to those who are looking for salvation within a
religion that meets the demands of Greek rationalism. It
embraces the Pythagorean and Socratic claim of the immortality
of the soul.
Finally, gnosticism appeals to numerous Christians, in particular,
because it offers an interpretation of Christianity that avoids the
difficult dogma that Jesus was resurrected bodily from the grave.
And it resolves the “scandal” that God Incarnate was crucified and
died on the cross as a criminal. It emphasizes the complete
dichotomy of body – spirit. It also enhances the understanding of
Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Jesus, if not an apostle of the
Gospel. It also honors Wisdom (Sophia) as a feminine
manifestation of the Truth, linking itself to the wisdom traditions of
the Old Testament and the ethics of the Greeks.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism
However inadequate for interpreting specific writings, it is helpful
to provide some broad characterizations of gnosticism. -- Luke
Timothy Johnson
A. Gnosis (= knowledge, insight, enlightenment) refers to revealed
and saving knowledge, and salvation means liberation from the
material world.
B. Mythic systems (rather than historical narratives) provide a
sense of origin, identity, and destiny.
C. The world of Torah is engaged mainly in a negative way, because
the creator God is also the source of error and entrapment.
D. Humanity is divided into types: the hylic (body), the psychic
(intellect), and the pneumatic (spirit), and salvation is for the few; this
is an individualistic spirituality.
E. Two moral responses are associated with gnosticism: libertinism
and asceticism.
F. The role of Christ is fundamentally that of the revealer of saving
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Before the discoveries at Nag Hammadi (1945-1946),
knowledge of gnosticism was, with the exception of a few
compositions, based on the descriptions of orthodox opponents.
Certainly, in the eyes of those writers
of the 2nd century later called
"orthodox" (Justin, Tertullian,
lrenaeus, Clement), the teachers and
doctrines they described as gnostic
represented a clear and present
Elaine Pagels book offered the first clear
exposition of Christian gnosticism based
on the Nag Hammadi compositions in
which gnostic writers spoke, after a
fashion, for themselves.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Before the discoveries at Nag Hammadi (1945-1946),
knowledge of gnosticism was, with the exception of a few
compositions, based on the descriptions of orthodox
Bishop Irenaeus, who supervised the church in Lyons, c. 180, wrote
five volumes entitled The Destruction and Overthrow of Falsely Socalled Knowledge. (Gnostic Gospels, p. xvii).
Fifty years later Hippolytus, a teacher in Rome, wrote another
massive Refutation of All Heresies to “expose and refute the wicked
blasphemy of the heretics.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. xviii)
What was so offensive?
1) The gnostic teacher Theodotus writes in Asia Minor between 140160 that to know oneself at the deepest level is simultaneously to
know God (Gnostic Gospels, p. xix). Monoimus, another gnostic
teacher says, “Abandon the search for God … you will find him in
yourself.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. xix).
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
2) Some of the gnostics question whether all suffering, labor,
and death derive from human sin, which marred an originally
perfect creation (Gnostic Gospels, p. xxxviii).
3) Others suggest there is a feminine element in the divine, and
celebrate God as Father and Mother
(Gnostic Gospels, p. xxxviii).
4) The resurrection is interpreted as wholly spiritual, and not at
all physical.
5) Christ is also wholly spiritual and not at all human.
6) Christ, as a spiritual being, only appeared to suffer and die;
whereas he had two natures, one human, one divine.
(This particular claim is known as Docetism, i.e., that Jesus' physical body was an
illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body
and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence
could not physically die. This belief has historically been regarded as heretical by
most Christian theologians.)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
It is significant that for those Christians who were alive during
the persecutions and to the following church fathers in
particular: Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian,
and Hyppolytus, the attitude toward martyrdom corresponds
to the interpretation of Christ’s suffering and death. (Gnostic
Gospels, pp. 107-108).
The discovery at Nag Hammadi allows some gnostics to
present their teachings themselves. And in the process, those
texts also reveal something hitherto unsuspected: the political
implications of such orthodox doctrines as the bodily
resurrection – and how gnostic views of resurrection bear
opposite implications (Gnostic Gospels, p. xxxix). Pagel’s intent
is “to show how gnostic forms of Christianity interact with
orthodoxy – and what this tells us about the origins of Christianity
itself.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. xxxvii)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Pagels suggests that the proclamation that “Jesus Christ rose
from the grave” may be the fundamental element of Christian
faith (Gnostic Gospels, p. 3)
Tertullian, c. 190, defines the orthodox position for the majority:
as Christ rose bodily from the grave, so every believer should
anticipate the resurrection of the flesh (Gnostic Gospels, p. 4). He
goes on to say that some reject this literal interpretation (Gnostic
Gospels, p. 5).
Biblical witnesses are unclear as to the form in which Christ
reappeared. Paul describes the resurrection as a mystery
(Gnostic Gospels, pp. 6-7).
1 Corin. 15:51: Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not sleep, but we will
all be changed.
Pagels offers the idea that orthodox doctrine implies
authoritarian form of exclusive church leadership, whereas
gnostic Christians who interpret resurrection in other ways have
a lesser claim to authority (Gnostic Gospels, p. 7).
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
The beginning of the creed, “I believe in one God, Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,” may have been so formulated to
exclude followers of Marcion (c. 140) (Gnostic Gospels, p. 33).
The question of apostolic authority is implied in Matthew and Luke
(Gnostic Gospels, p. 10). An apostle must be a witness.
When the orthodox insisted on “one God,” they simultaneously
validated the system of church governance by “one bishop”
(Gnostic Gospels, p. 40)
Clement of Alexandria argues that God rules via his delegates.
Just as God reigns in heaven, so on earth he delegates his rule
to members of the church hierarchy. Ignatius goes one step
further. Just as there is only one God in heaven, so there can be
only one bishop on earth. “One God, one bishop” becomes the
orthodox slogan (Gnostic Gospels, p. 42).
Gnostics, however, have been “released” from the power and
false claims of the demiurge, according to Valentinus.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Some gnostics called the literal view of resurrection the “faith of
fools.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 12) The true disciple encounters
the resurrected Christ, as did Paul, on the level of inner
experience (Gnostic Gospels, p. 13).
The gnostic Gospel of Mary interprets the resurrection
appearances of Christ as visions received in dreams or in
ecstatic trances (Gnostic Gospels, p. 13). Mark & Mary
Magdalene at the empty tomb; Gospel of Mary and Peter.
(Gnostic Gospels, pp. 14-15)
Did Paul have secret wisdom? (Gnostic Gospels, pp. 17-18)
Does he indicate that the body is incapable of apprehending
such wisdom? (2 Corin. 12:2-4)
According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says,
“If spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of
wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth [the spirit] has
made its home in this poverty [the body].” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 32)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Similarly, we read in the Gospel of Thomas,
87. Jesus said, "How miserable is the body that depends on a body, and
how miserable is the soul that depends on these two."
Both the titles of the Gospel of Thomas and the Book of
Thomas the Contender may suggest that you, the reader, are
Jesus’ “twin brother.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 22). What do the
Twelve know, anyway? (Gnostic Gospels, p. 26)
Irenaeus defends orthodoxy over and against the gnostics (Gnostic
Gospels, pp. 20-21, 25, 28-29). So, too, Tertullian (Gnostic
Gospels, pp. 27-28). Both emphasize the anticipation of bodily
resurrection (Gnostic Gospels, p. 31).
Just as Christian tradition has preserved orthodox writings
that denounce the gnostics, now with the discovery of the
Nag Hammadi, we read how the gnostics denounced the
orthodox (Gnostic Gospels, p. 123).
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, “… we were hated and
persecuted, not only by the ignorant [pagans], but also by those
who think they are advancing the name of Christ, since they
were unknowingly empty, not knowing who they are, like
dumb animals.” “having proclaimed a doctrine of a dead man
and lies, so as to resemble the freedom and purity of the
perfect church.”
The author of the Apocalypse of Peter alleges that the orthodox
“blaspheme the truth and proclaim evil teaching.”
Similarly, in the Testamony of Truth, ecclesiastical believers are
attacked as those who say “we are Christians,” but “who [do not
know who] Christ is.”
Another Nag Hammadi text, the Authoritative Teaching,
accuses “those who contend with us” of being “dealers in
bodies,” senseless, ignorant, worse than pagans. (Gnostic
Gospels, pp. 124-125)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
By the late second century, objective criteria for church
membership include confession of the creed, baptism,
participation in worship and obedience to the clergy.
The orthodox Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch says, “Let no one do
anything without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid eucharist
which is celebrated by the bishop, or by the person whom he appoints
… Wherever the bishop offers [the eucharist], let the congregation be
present, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”
(Gnostic Gospels, p. 126)
Lest any “heretic” suggest that Christ may be present without the
bishop, Ignatius sets him straight, “It is not legitimate either to
baptize or to hold an agape meal without the bishop… To join with
the bishop is to join the church; to separate oneself from the
bishop is to separate oneself not only from the church, but from
God himself.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 127)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Gnostic Christians, on the other hand, assert that what
distinguishes the false and the true church is not its
relationship to the clergy, but the level of understanding of
its members. They attempt neither to dominate nor to submit to
the bishop; they experience Christ directly and inwardly. One
member of the true church is united to another through gnosis
and they love each other as “fellow spirits.”
(Gnostic Gospels, p. 128)
Gnostic Christians, according to Irenaeus, conducted their
meetings by having members draw lots for the roles of priest,
bishop, and prophet. The next meeting, they would throw lots
again so that the persons taking each role changed continually. All
initiates, men and women alike, participated equally in the drawing;
anyone might be selected to be priest, bishop, or prophet. There
could never be among them permanent “ranks.”
(Gnostic Gospels, p. 49)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
The purpose of accepting authority is to learn to outgrow it.
When one becomes mature, one no longer needs any external
authority. The one who formerly took the place of a disciple
comes to recognize himself as Jesus’ “twin brother.”
Gnostic sources do often depict Jesus answering questions,
taking the role of a teacher, revealer, and spiritual master. Yet
his role serves as only a provisional measure. In our Gospel of
Thomas, Jesus refuses to validate the experience that the
disciples must discover for themselves (Gnostic Gospels, p. 157):
91. They said to him, "Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you."
He said to them, "You examine the face of heaven and earth, but you
have not come to know the one who is in your presence, and you do not
know how to examine the present moment."
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
In frustration, the disciples inquire, "Who are you to say these
things to us?" "You don't understand who I am from what I say
to you. " (Gospel of Thomas, #43). Jesus, instead of answering,
criticizes their question.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of Thomas,
24. His disciples said, "Show us the place where you are, for we must seek
it." He said to them, "Anyone here with two ears had better listen! There is
light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole world. If it does not
shine, it is dark." Jesus seizes the opportunity to make a larger point
by directing the disciples to discover the resources within, rather
than expect the answer to come from him.
The same theme appears in another Nag Hammadi composition,
the Dialogue of the Savior. As Jesus talks with three chosen
disciples, Matthew asks him to show him the “place of life,” which
is, he says, he “pure light.” Jesus answers, “Every one [of you]
who has known himself has seen it.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 158)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Indeed, Jesus praises the concentration on inner well being in
“Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who are alone and chosen, for
you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return
there again." (Gospel of Thomas, #49)
One group of gnostics claim to have received a secret tradition
from Jesus through James and through Mary Magdalene.
Members of this group prayed to both the divine Father and
Mother. Since Genesis, Chap. 1, says that humanity was created
in God’s image, then some concluded that the God in whose
image we are made must also be masculine and feminine. – both
Father and Mother. (Gnostic Gospels, p. 59)
This, however, is not the case for our Gospel of Thomas, as the
last saying make clear:
114. Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for females don't
deserve life." Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that
she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female
who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
Pagels points out that Clement of Alexandria, though on the side
of the orthodox and very much opposed to the gnostics,
characterizes God in feminine as well as masculine terms:
“The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher
and nurse … The nutriment is the milk of the Father … and the Word
alone supplies us children with the milk of love .. For this reason,
seeking is called sucking; to those infants who seek the Word, the
Father’s loving breasts supply milk.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 81)
The majority of the orthodox, however, adopted the view of
Tertullian , c. 190, :
“It is not permitted for a woman to speak in the church, nor is it permitted
for her to teach, nor to baptize, nor to offer [the eucharist], nor to claim for
herself a share in any masculine function – least of all, in priestly office.”
In 1977, Pope Paul VI declared that a woman cannot be a
priest “because our Lord was a man.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 83)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
The Nag Hammadi discoveries reopen fundamental questions.
1) origins of Christianity. Might Christianity have developed
2) Had Christianity remained multiform, it might have disappeared
with dozens of rival religious cults.
3) Whereas the gnostics considered the created world something
out of which Christ will lead us and from which he will free us, the
orthodox insisted that the creation is “good.” Irenaeus says that
did not despise or evade any condition of humanity, nor set aside for
himself the law which he had appointed for the human race, but sanctified
every age, becoming infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for
children, thus sanctifying those who are at this age …, then , at last, he
came onto death itself.” (Gnostic Gospels, p. 81)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
4) Whereas the gnostic viewed himself as “one out of a
thousand,” the orthodox viewed himself as one member of the
common human family. As Origen points out in the third century,
God would not have offered a way of salvation accessible only
to an intellectual or spiritual elite.
5) The gnostic saw a solitary Christ who encourages solitary
disciples, who reject family (as suggested in Luke), home (also
Luke), avoid marriage (as in Paul), and who have no use for
unbelievers, whereas the orthodox saw Jesus bless marriage
and call it inviolable, welcome children who surround him
willingly, alleviate human suffering through acts of healing and
weep when he understood people have rejected him; the same
Christ encourages his disciples to acts of the same compassion
and self-involvement and sacrifice. (Gnostic Gospels, p.177-178)
6) Exactly what were the words and teachings of Jesus’ own mouth?
Are there perhaps more of them available to us than only those
recorded in the canonical New Testament?
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ The Gnostic Gospels -- Pagels
7) The Gospel of John is a remarkable book that many gnostic
Christians claimed for themselves and used as a primary source
for gnostic teaching. Yet the emerging church, despite some
orthodox opposition, included John within the New Testament.
Why does the church reject the gnostic Gospel of Thomas but
include the Gospel of John? (Gnostic Gospels, p.143) That will
be addressed in Elaine Pagel’s Beyond Belief: The Secret
Gospel of Thomas, to which we now turn our attention.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
In examining the Nag Hammadi compositions, Pagels hoped to
rediscover the purer, simpler “early Christianity,” but instead found
a more diverse and complicated situation. Many scholars are now
convinced that John emerged at the end of the first century in the
framework of an intense debate over who Jesus was. Her
research has clarified for her not only what John’s gospel is for
but what it is against.
John says that he writes “so that you may
believe, and believing, may have life in [Jesus’]
name.” What John opposed, includes what the
Gospel of Thomas teaches – that God’s light
shines not only in Jesus but, potentially at least, in
everyone. Thomas’s gospel encourages the
hearer not so much to believe in Jesus, as John
requires, as to seek to know God through one’s
own, divinely given capacity, since all are created
in the image of God. (Beyond Belief, p. 34)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
John the Apostle by
El Greco
There was disagreement among John’s first
readers (c. 90-130 C.E.) about whether John
was a true gospel. Its detractors pointed out
that John’s narrative differs significantly from
those of the synoptic gospels. This is
particularly evident concerning Jesus’ final
days. Jesus is arrested shortly after the
Temple incident, whereas John places this
act at the beginning of his ministry. John
intends instead that the story of the raising
of Lazarus be understood as the event that
leads to the decision by the high priest
Caiaphas to have Jesus dealt with once and
for all. (Beyond Belief, pp. 34-35)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Caiaphas argues that “if we let him go on like this, everyone
will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy our
holy place and our nation.” (Beyond Belief, p. 36)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Arch of Titus in Rome (copy)
Second Temple, temple of Herod,
completed only during lifetime of
Jesus, destroyed (70 C.E.)
Tertullian’s younger
contemporary Irenaeus had
lived as a boy with his teacher
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrma.
Polycarp had personally heard
Jesus’ teaching from John
himself, “the disciple of the
Lord.” Convinced that this
disciple wrote the Gospel of
John, Irenaeus was among the
first to champion this gospel.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Pagels states that the seminal idea for
this book came because,
“I was amazed when I went back to the Gospel
of John after reading Thomas, for Thomas and
John clearly draw upon similar language and
images, and both, apparently, begin with
similar ‘secret teaching’. But John takes this
teaching to mean something so different from
Thomas that I wondered whether John could
have written his gospel to refute what Thomas
teaches. … John – and only John – presents a
challenging and critical portrait of the disciple
he calls ‘Thomas, the one called Didymus’. …
[I]t is John who invented the character we call
Doubting Thomas, perhaps as a way of
caricaturing those who revered a teacher –
and a version of Jesus’ teaching – that he
regarded as faithless and false.” (Beyond
Belief, p. 58)
Elaine Pagels,
Polycarp of Smyna, burned at
the stake c. 155 C.E., said to
have known the Apostle John.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
On the face of it, the Gospel of John has what could be
considered gnostic tendencies, as Rudoph Bultmann
pointed out.
Gnostics must have read John because it is found with
Gnostic texts. The root of Gnosticism is that salvation
comes from gnosis, secret knowledge. The nearly five
chapters of the "farewell discourses" (John 13, 18) Jesus
shares only with the Twelve Apostles. Jesus pre-exists
birth as the Word (Logos). This origin and action resemble
a gnostic aeon (emanation from God) being sent from the
pleroma (region of light) to give humans the knowledge
they need to ascend to the pleroma themselves. John's
denigration of the flesh, as opposed to the spirit, is a
classic gnostic theme.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Bultmann states, “Gnostic terminology places its stamp
mainly on the words and discourses of Jesus” in The
Gospel according to John; however, he goes even further
stating that Gnostic terminology “runs through the whole
Gospel and Epistles.” He proceeds further with this thought
specifying that, “If the author’s background was Judaism,
as rather frequently occurring rabbinical turns of speech
perhaps prove, it was….out of a gnosticizing Judaism that
he came.” Bultmann further notes that “the literary devices
with which [the author of John’s Gospel] builds the
discussions—the use of ambiguous concepts and
statements to elicit misunderstandings—are indicative that
he lives within the sphere of Gnostic-dualistic thinking.”
Bultmann, Rudolf, Theology of the New Testament, Volume II, Translated by
Kendrick Grobel, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, paperback edition, 1955,
Part III, “The Theology of the Gospel of John and the Johannine
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
John is in any case quite distinct from the synoptic
gospels, as we have already seen. During the second
century, those who argued for what are now called the four
canonical gospels recognized John’s uniqueness.
First, Irenaeus writes in his Against Heresies of the
importance of the gospels by Matthew, Mark, Luke and
“So Matthew among the Hebrews issued a Writing of the gospel
in their own tongue, while Peter and Paul were preaching the
gospel at Rome and founding the Church. After their decease
Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, also handed down to
us in writing what Peter had preached. Then Luke, the follower of
Paul, recorded in a book the gospel as it was preached by him.
Finally John, the disciple of the Lord, who had also lain on his
breast, himself published the Gospel, while he was residing at
Ephesus in Asia.”
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Next, Irenaeus demonstrates with an argument from
anology the “fourfold” gospel:
“The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number
than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we
live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the
earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and
the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars … From this it is clear that
the Word … gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by
one Spirit.”
(Quoted from In Quest of Jesus by W. Barnes Tatum,
Abingdon Press, 1999, p. 28.)
Irenaeus, bishop and martyr
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
It was Irenaeus who became the principal architect of the
four gospel cannon. First Irenaeus denounces various
Christian groups that settle on only one gospel, like the
Ebionite Christians, who, he says, accept only Matthew, or
followers of Marcion, who use only Luke. Equally mistaken,
Irenaeus continues are those who invoke many gospels.
Irenaeus resolved to pare down the forest of “apocryphal
and illegitimate” writing like the Secret Book of James and
the Gospel of Mary. (Beyond Belief, p. 111)
Tatian, who was a student of Justin like Irenaeus, attempted
to harmonize the various gospels by rewriting them into one
single, composite account; however, Irenaeus urged
believers to accept all four distinct gospels despite their
obvious differences. (Beyond Belief, p. 134)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
According to Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, reflected on
some of the circumstances surrounding the composition of
Mark’s and John’s gospels with these words,
“When Peter had publicly preached the word at Rome …, those
present … exhorted Mark, as one who had followed him for a long
time and remembered what had been spoken, to make a record of
what was said; and that he did this, and distributed the Gospel
among those that asked him. … But that John, last of all, conscious
that the outward facts had been set forth in the Gospels, was urged
on by his disciples, and divinely moved by the Spirit, composed a
spiritual Gospel.” (In Quest of Jesus p. 29)
Augustine, following Clement, writes of John’s gospel,
“These three evangelists, however, were for the most part engaged with
those things which Christ did through the vehicle of the flesh of man, and
after the temporal fashion. But John, on the other hand, had in view that
true divinity of the Lord in which He is the Father’s equal, and directed his
efforts above all to the setting forth of the divine nature in his Gospel…”
(In Quest of Jesus p. 30)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
1. John presents a different outline of Jesus’ ministry and
many peculiar stories. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus
begins his public ministry only after the arrest of John the
Baptist. But in John, before his arrest. In the Synoptics,
Jesus makes one visit to Jerusalem and at Passover; in
John, his ministry includes at least three Passover seasons.
Since Jesus cleanses the Temple on his first visit to
Jerusalem in John, another event leads to the conspiracy
against him: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In the
Synoptics, the Last Supper occurs on Passover evening and
Jesus dies on Passover day. In John, the Last Supper,
during which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, occurs on the
evening before Passover evening; Jesus dies the day before
(In Quest of Jesus p. 71)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
2. John presents a different characterization of Jesus and
his message. In the Synoptics, Jesus usually tries to keep
his messiahship a secret, forbidding demons and the healed
from proclaiming it. In John, Jesus is open about his
messiahship. In the Synoptics, Jesus teaches in parables. In
John, there are no parables. There are instead longer
discourses. In the Synoptics, Jesus talks about the future
apocalyptic hope; in John, he emphasizes renewed life is
possible in the present. In the Synoptics, Jesus’ mighty acts
include exorcisms; in John, there are no exorcisms. The
nature miracles, healings and even dead raisings are viewed
in John as “signs.” (In Quest of Jesus, pp. 71-72)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
John presents a series of sayings that begin with “I am.”
“I am the bread of life (6:35, 48)
“I am the light of the world” (8:12, 9:5)
“I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7)
“I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14)
“I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6)
“I am the true vine (15:1)
(In Quest of Jesus, p. 72. and p. 419)
also “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58)
(Beyond Belief, p. 65)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Jesus frequently speaks of himself in John’s gospel using the
emphatic phrase I AM (Greek: ego eimi). This expression
was widely in the Graeco-Roman world, and would have
been recognized by John’s readers as an established
formula attributed to one of the gods. It is even possible that
the famous self-revelation of God is being evoked in Exodus
3:14: “I am who I am.” The Greek version of this phrase,
recorded in the Septuagint, reads, “I am the one who is.”
(The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of
Jesus, Robert W. Funk, et al., Macmillan, 1993.)
See for a detailed list of differences and characteristics unique
to John:
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Perhaps in part because his gospel is so distinctive, the early
church judged John to have been familiar with the Synoptics
and to have composed his gospel afterward. Recently,
however, the case has been made for its literary
independence from the Synoptics, as more and more
evidence of an oral tradition has come to light.
It has also been suggested that the fourth evangelist may have
had access to a “signs source” a written document consisting of a
series of miracle stories so much in evidence in Chapters 1-12.
Evidence for this source appears in the Gospel itself where the
first two miracles and are explicitly numbered as the “first” and the
“second” signs that Jesus performed in Galilee (2:11 and 4:54).
(In Quest of Jesus, p. 54)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
It seems that Polycarp did not know of John’s gospel. Nor is
it even mentioned by another martyr much revered by
Irenaeus, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch. It is not even
mentioned by Justin Martyr, the philosopher in Rome whose
works Irenaeus admired.
Irenaeus mentions that some Christians rejected John’s
gospel. The Roman teacher Gaius had even called the
Gospel of John heretical. (Beyond Belief, p. 149)
Nevertheless, for Irenaeus, John was not the fourth gospel, as
Christians call it today, but the first and foremost of the
gospels, because he believed that John alone understood
who Jesus really is – God in human form. (Beyond Belief,
p. 112)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Nevertheless, for Irenaeus, John was not the fourth gospel, as
Christians call it today, but the first and foremost of the
gospels, because he believed that John alone understood
who Jesus really is – God in human form. (Beyond Belief,
p. 112)
But don’t the other gospels also say that Jesus is God? Elaine
Pagels remarks that for herself,
I assumed that all the gospels say the same […]. Only in graduate
school, when I investigated each gospel […] in its historical context,
did I see how radical is John’s claim that Jesus is God manifest in
human form.
(Beyond Belief, p. 112) p. 37
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Irenaeus knew that the claim far oversteps anything found in
the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where, he notes,
each pictures Jesus as a man who receives special divine
power, as God’s “anointed one.” Each gospel write assigns to
Jesus a somewhat different role. Irenaeus says Matthew
depicts Jesus as God’s appointed king and traces his family
back to King David. Luke emphasizes his role as priest. Mark
depicts him as God’s prophet. But each of these gospels
stops short of identifying Jesus with God, much less as God.
For Irenaeus, however, the Gospel of John does precisely
that. As Origen will say later, only John speaks of Jesus’
“divinity.” Both Irenaeus and Origen took this to mean that
John is not only different but also “more elevated.”
(Beyond Belief, pp. 152-153)
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Origen, when asked about discrepancies between John, on
the one hand, and Matthew, Mark and Luke, on the other,
explains that although “John does not always tell the truth
literally, he always tells the truth spiritually” – that is,
symbolically. He agreed with Valentinus, a gnostic teacher
and poet who was widely respected in Rome by his fellow
Christians, that the reader of John must plunge beyond the
surface of John’s words. (Beyond Belief, pp. 118-119)
As Pagels sees it, Irenaeus’ effort to discourage fanciful
exegesis of John (involving secret teachings) was
successful, despite the acceptance of the commentaries
of disciples of Valentinus by many Christians. So, too,
his insistence on the four fold gospel resulted in the
acceptance of four and only four canonical gospels. His
interpretation of the prologue to John’s gospel, according
to which the Lord God is the Word and Jesus is the
Word incarnate, was enshrined in the Nicene Creed.
Gnosis and Neo-Platonism ~ Beyond Belief -- Pagels
Given the popularity of the gnostic teachings and
compositions, indeed given the respectability among certain
Christians of the early second century of those teachings,
John may have written his gospel as a polemical response to
the Gospel of Thomas.
For on the one hand, Thomas and John both emphasize
Thomas’ recognition of the resurrected Christ and Jesus’
extensive teaching that is, in some sense, restricted to his
On the other, Thomas’ gospel presents Jesus as a sage, the
ultimate spiritual guide, an esoteric philosopher, whereas
John insists on the unmitigated divinity of Jesus, Lord and
The Gospel of Thomas
Translated by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer
(Visit the Gospel of Thomas Collection for additional information)
These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and
Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.
1. And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these
sayings will not taste death."
2. Jesus said, "Those who seek should not stop seeking until they
find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed,
they will marvel, and will reign over all. [And after they have reigned
they will rest.]"
3. Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the (Father's)
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 (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will
understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do
not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the
The Gospel of Thomas
4. Jesus said, "The person old in days won't hesitate to ask a
little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person
will live.
For many of the first will be last, and will become a single one."
5. Jesus said, "Know what is in front of your face, and what is
hidden from you will be disclosed to you.
For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there
is nothing buried that will not be raised.]"
6. His disciples asked him and said to him, "Do you want us to
fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet
should we observe?"
Jesus said, "Don't lie, and don't do what you hate, because all
things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing
hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up
that will remain undisclosed."
The Gospel of Thomas
7. Jesus said, "Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that
the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will
eat, and the lion still will become human."
8. And he said, "The person is like a wise fisherman who cast
his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of little fish.
Among them the wise fisherman discovered a fine large fish. He
threw all the little fish back into the sea, and easily chose the
large fish. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!"
9. Jesus said, "Look, the sower went out, took a handful (of
seeds), and scattered (them). Some fell on the road, and the
birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and they
didn't take root in the soil and didn't produce heads of grain.
Others fell on thorns, and they choked the seeds and worms ate
them. And others fell on good soil, and it produced a good crop:
it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per
The Gospel of Thomas
10. Jesus said, "I have cast fire upon the world, and look, I'm
guarding it until it blazes."
11. Jesus said, "This heaven will pass away, and the one above
it will pass away.
The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. During the
days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive. When
you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were
one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you
12. The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to
leave us. Who will be our leader?"
Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to
James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into
The Gospel of Thomas
13. Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to something and
tell me what I am like."
Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a just messenger."
Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."
Thomas said to him, "Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say
what you are like."
Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk,
you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I
have tended."
And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him.
When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, "What
did Jesus say to you?"
Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke
to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come
from the rocks and devour you."
The Gospel of Thomas
14. Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon
yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you
give to charity, you will harm your spirits.
When you go into any region and walk about in the countryside,
when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal the
sick among them.
After all, what goes into your mouth will not defile you; rather, it's
what comes out of your mouth that will defile you."
15. Jesus said, "When you see one who was not born of
woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father."
16. Jesus said, "Perhaps people think that I have come to cast
peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to
cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war.
For there will be five in a house: there'll be three against two and
two against three, father against son and son against father, and
they will stand alone."
The Gospel of Thomas
17. Jesus said, "I will give you what no eye has seen, what no
ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen
in the human heart."
18. The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us, how will our end
Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, that you are
looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the
beginning is.
Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that
one will know the end and will not taste death."
19. Jesus said, "Congratulations to the one who came into being
before coming into being.
If you become my disciples and pay attention to my sayings,
these stones will serve you.
For there are five trees in Paradise for you; they do not change,
summer or winter, and their leaves do not fall. Whoever knows
them will not taste death."
The Gospel of Thomas
20. The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what Heaven's kingdom
is like."
He said to them, "It's like a mustard seed, the smallest of all
seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large
plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."
21. Mary said to Jesus, "What are your disciples like?"
He said, "They are like little children living in a field that is not
theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Give us
back our field.' They take off their clothes in front of them in
order to give it back to them, and they return their field to them.
For this reason I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief
is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives and will
not let the thief break into their house (their domain) and steal
their possessions.
As for you, then, be on guard against the world. Prepare
yourselves with great strength, so the robbers can't find a way to
get to you, for the trouble you expect will come.
The Gospel of Thomas
21. (continued) Let there be among you a person who
When the crop ripened, he came quickly carrying a sickle and
harvested it. Anyone here with two good ears had better listen!"
22. Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples,
"These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's)
They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) kingdom
as babies?"
Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and
when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the
inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male
and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male
nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an
eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an
image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]."
The Gospel of Thomas
23. Jesus said, "I shall choose you, one from a thousand and
two from ten thousand, and they will stand as a single one."
24. His disciples said, "Show us the place where you are, for
we must seek it."
He said to them, "Anyone here with two ears had better listen!
There is light within a person of light, and it shines on the whole
world. If it does not shine, it is dark."
25. Jesus said, "Love your friends like your own soul, protect
them like the pupil of your eye."
26. Jesus said, "You see the sliver in your friend's eye, but you
don't see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber
out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove
the sliver from your friend's eye."
27. "If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the
(Father's) kingdom. If you do not observe the Sabbath as a
Sabbath you will not see the Father."
The Gospel of Thomas
28. Jesus said, "I took my stand in the midst of the world, and in
flesh I appeared to them. I found them all drunk, and I did not
find any of them thirsty. My soul ached for the children of
humanity, because they are blind in their hearts and do not see,
for they came into the world empty, and they also seek to
depart from the world empty.
But meanwhile they are drunk. When they shake off their wine,
then they will change their ways."
29. Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit,
that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the
body, that is a marvel of marvels.
Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this
30. Jesus said, "Where there are three deities, they are divine.
Where there are two or one, I am with that one."
31. Jesus said, "No prophet is welcome on his home turf;
doctors don't cure those who know them."
The Gospel of Thomas
32. Jesus said, "A city built on a high hill and fortified cannot
fall, nor can it be hidden."
33. Jesus said, "What you will hear in your ear, in the other ear
proclaim from your rooftops.
After all, no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, nor
does one put it in a hidden place. Rather, one puts it on a lamp
stand so that all who come and go will see its light."
34. Jesus said, "If a blind person leads a blind person, both of
them will fall into a hole."
35. Jesus said, "One can't enter a strong person's house and
take it by force without tying his hands. Then one can loot his
The Gospel of Thomas
36. Jesus said, "Do not fret, from morning to evening and from
evening to morning, [about your food--what you're going to eat,
or about your clothing--] what you are going to wear. [You're
much better than the lilies, which neither card nor spin.
As for you, when you have no garment, what will you put on?
Who might add to your stature? That very one will give you
your garment.]"
37. His disciples said, "When will you appear to us, and when
will we see you?"
Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you
take your clothes and put them under your feet like little
children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the
living one and you will not be afraid."
38. Jesus said, "Often you have desired to hear these sayings
that I am speaking to you, and you have no one else from
whom to hear them. There will be days when you will seek me
and you will not find me."
The Gospel of Thomas
39. Jesus said, "The Pharisees and the scholars have taken the
keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They have not
entered nor have they allowed those who want to enter to do
As for you, be as sly as snakes and as simple as doves."
40. Jesus said, "A grapevine has been planted apart from the
Father. Since it is not strong, it will be pulled up by its root and
will perish."
41. Jesus said, "Whoever has something in hand will be given
more, and whoever has nothing will be deprived of even the
little they have."
42. Jesus said, "Be passersby."
43. His disciples said to him, "Who are you to say these things
to us?"
"You don't understand who I am from what I say to you.
Rather, you have become like the Judeans, for they love the
tree but hate its fruit, or they love the fruit but hate the tree."
The Gospel of Thomas
44. Jesus said, "Whoever blasphemes against the Father will
be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be
forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will
not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven."
45. Jesus said, "Grapes are not harvested from thorn trees, nor
are figs gathered from thistles, for they yield no fruit.
Good persons produce good from what they've stored up; bad
persons produce evil from the wickedness they've stored up in
their hearts, and say evil things. For from the overflow of the
heart they produce evil."
46. Jesus said, "From Adam to John the Baptist, among those
born of women, no one is so much 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
The Gospel of Thomas
47. Jesus said, "A person cannot mount two horses or bend two
And a slave cannot serve two masters, otherwise that slave will
honor the one and offend the other.
Nobody drinks aged wine and immediately wants to drink
young wine. Young wine is not poured into old wineskins, or
they might break, and aged wine is not poured into a new
wineskin, or it might spoil.
An old patch is not sewn onto a new garment, since it would
create a tear."
48. Jesus said, "If two make peace with each other in a single
house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it
will move."
49. Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who are alone and
chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from
it, and you will return there again."
The Gospel of Thomas
50. Jesus said, "If they say to you, 'Where have you come
from?' say to them, 'We have come from the light, from the
place where the light came into being by itself, established
[itself], and appeared in their image.'
If they say to you, 'Is it you?' say, 'We are its children, and we
are the chosen of the living Father.'
If they ask you, 'What is the evidence of your Father in you?'
say to them, 'It is motion and rest.'"
51. His disciples said to him, "When will the rest for the dead
take place, and when will the new world come?"
He said to them, "What you are looking forward to has come,
but you don't know it."
52. His disciples said to him, "Twenty-four prophets have
spoken in Israel, and they all spoke of you."
He said to them, "You have disregarded the living one who is in
your presence, and have spoken of the dead."
The Gospel of Thomas
53. His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision useful or not?"
He said to them, "If it were useful, their father would produce
children already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true
circumcision in spirit has become profitable in every respect."
54. Jesus said, "Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs
Heaven's kingdom."
55. Jesus said, "Whoever does not hate father and mother
cannot be my disciple, and whoever does not hate brothers and
sisters, and carry the cross as I do, will not be worthy of me."
56. Jesus said, "Whoever has come to know the world has
discovered a carcass, and whoever has discovered a carcass,
of that person the world is not worthy."
The Gospel of Thomas
57 Jesus said, "The Father's kingdom is like a person who has
[good] seed. His enemy came during the night and sowed
weeds among the good seed. The person did not let the
workers pull up the weeds, but said to them, 'No, otherwise you
might go to pull up the weeds and pull up the wheat along with
them.' For on the day of the harvest the weeds will be
conspicuous, and will be pulled up and burned."
58. Jesus said, "Congratulations to the person who has toiled
and has found life."
59. Jesus said, "Look to the living one as long as you live,
otherwise you might die and then try to see the living one, and
you will be unable to see."
The Gospel of Thomas
60. He saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb and going to Judea.
He said to his disciples, "that person ... around the lamb." They
said to him, "So that he may kill it and eat it." He said to them,
"He will not eat it while it is alive, but only after he has killed it
and it has become a carcass."
They said, "Otherwise he can't do it."
He said to them, "So also with you, seek for yourselves a place
for rest, or you might become a carcass and be eaten."
61. Jesus said, "Two will recline on a couch; one will die, one
will live."
Salome said, "Who are you mister? You have climbed onto my
couch and eaten from my table as if you are from someone."
Jesus said to her, "I am the one who comes from what is whole.
I was granted from the things of my Father."
"I am your disciple."
"For this reason I say, if one is whole, one will be filled with
light, but if one is divided, one will be filled with darkness."
The Gospel of Thomas
62. Jesus said, "I disclose my mysteries to those [who are
worthy] of [my] mysteries. Do not let your left hand know what
your right hand is doing.
63. Jesus said, "There was a rich person who had a great deal
of money. He said, 'I shall invest my money so that I may sow,
reap, plant, and fill my storehouses with produce, that I may
lack nothing.' These were the things he was thinking in his
heart, but that very night he died. Anyone here with two ears
had better listen!"
64. Jesus said, "A person was receiving guests. When he had
prepared the dinner, he sent his slave to invite the guests.
The slave went to the first and said to that one, 'My master
invites you.' That one said, 'Some merchants owe me money;
they are coming to me tonight. I have to go and give them
instructions. Please excuse me from dinner.'
The Gospel of Thomas
64. (continued) The slave went to another and said to that one,
'My master has invited you.' That one said to the slave, 'I have
bought a house, and I have been called away for a day. I shall
have no time.'
The slave went to another and said to that one, 'My master
invites you.' That one said to the slave, 'My friend is to be
married, and I am to arrange the banquet. I shall not be able to
come. Please excuse me from dinner.'
The slave went to another and said to that one, 'My master
invites you.' That one said to the slave, 'I have bought an
estate, and I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to
come. Please excuse me.'
The slave returned and said to his master, 'Those whom you
invited to dinner have asked to be excused.' The master said to
his slave, 'Go out on the streets and bring back whomever you
find to have dinner.'
Buyers and merchants [will] not enter the places of my Father."
The Gospel of Thomas
65. He said, "A [...] person owned a vineyard and rented it to
some farmers, so they could work it and he could collect its
crop from them. He sent his slave so the farmers would give
him the vineyard's crop. They grabbed him, beat him, and
almost killed him, and the slave returned and told his master.
His master said, 'Perhaps he didn't know them.' He sent
another slave, and the farmers beat that one as well. Then the
master sent his son and said, 'Perhaps they'll show my son
some respect.' Because the farmers knew that he was the heir
to the vineyard, they grabbed him and killed him. Anyone here
with two ears had better listen!"
66. Jesus said, "Show me the stone that the builders rejected:
that is the keystone."
67. Jesus said, "Those who know all, but are lacking in
themselves, are utterly lacking."
The Gospel of Thomas
68. Jesus said, "Congratulations to you when you are hated
and persecuted; and no place will be found, wherever you have
been persecuted."
69. Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who have been
persecuted in their hearts: they are the ones who have truly
come to know the Father.
Congratulations to those who go hungry, so the stomach of the
one in want may be filled."
70. Jesus said, "If you bring forth what is within you, what you
have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you
do not have within you [will] kill you."
71. Jesus said, "I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be
able to build it [...]."
The Gospel of Thomas
72. A [person said] to him, "Tell my brothers to divide my
father's possessions with me."
He said to the person, "Mister, who made me a divider?"
He turned to his disciples and said to them, "I'm not a divider,
am I?"
73. Jesus said, "The crop is huge but the workers are few, so
beg the harvest boss to dispatch workers to the fields."
74. He said, "Lord, there are many around the drinking trough,
but there is nothing in the well."
75. Jesus said, "There are many standing at the door, but those
who are alone will enter the bridal suite."
76. Jesus said, "The Father's kingdom is like a merchant who
had a supply of merchandise and found a pearl. That merchant
was prudent; he sold the merchandise and bought the single
pearl for himself.
So also with you, seek his treasure that is unfailing, that is
enduring, where no moth comes to eat and no worm destroys."
The Gospel of Thomas
77. Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all:
from me all came forth, and to me all attained.
Split a piece of wood; I am there.
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."
78. Jesus said, "Why have you come out to the countryside? To
see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a person dressed in
soft clothes, [like your] rulers and your powerful ones? They are
dressed in soft clothes, and they cannot understand truth."
79. A woman in the crowd said to him, "Lucky are the womb
that bore you and the breasts that fed you."
He said to [her], "Lucky are those who have heard the word of
the Father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when
you will say, 'Lucky are the womb that has not conceived and
the breasts that have not given milk.'"
80. Jesus said, "Whoever has come to know the world has
discovered the body, and whoever has discovered the body, of
that one the world is not worthy."
The Gospel of Thomas
81. Jesus said, "Let one who has become wealthy reign, and let
one who has power renounce <it>."
82. Jesus said, "Whoever is near me is near the fire, and
whoever is far from me is far from the (Father's) kingdom."
83. Jesus said, "Images are visible to people, but the light
within them is hidden in the image of the Father's light. He will
be disclosed, but his image is hidden by his light."
84. Jesus said, "When you see your likeness, you are happy.
But when you see your images that came into being before you
and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will
have to bear!"
85. Jesus said, "Adam came from great power and great
wealth, but he was not worthy of you. For had he been worthy,
[he would] not [have tasted] death."
86. Jesus said, "[Foxes have] their dens and birds have their
nests, but human beings have no place to lay down and rest."
The Gospel of Thomas
87. Jesus said, "How miserable is the body that depends on a
body, and how miserable is the soul that depends on these
88. Jesus said, "The messengers and the prophets will come to
you and give you what belongs to you. You, in turn, give them
what you have, and say to yourselves, 'When will they come
and take what belongs to them?'"
89. Jesus said, "Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Don't
you understand that the one who made the inside is also the
one who made the outside?"
90. Jesus said, "Come to me, for my yoke is comfortable and
my lordship is gentle, and you will find rest for yourselves."
91. They said to him, "Tell us who you are so that we may
believe in you."
He said to them, "You examine the face of heaven and earth,
but you have not come to know the one who is in your
presence, and you do not know how to examine the present
The Gospel of Thomas
92. Jesus said, "Seek and you will find.
In the past, however, I did not tell you the things about which
you asked me then. Now I am willing to tell them, but you are
not seeking them."
93. "Don't give what is holy to dogs, for they might throw them
upon the manure pile. Don't throw pearls [to] pigs, or they might
... it [...]."
94. Jesus [said], "One who seeks will find, and for [one who
knocks] it will be opened."
95. [Jesus said], "If you have money, don't lend it at interest.
Rather, give [it] to someone from whom you won't get it back."
96. Jesus [said], "The Father's kingdom is like [a] woman. She
took a little leaven, [hid] it in dough, and made it into large
loaves of bread. Anyone here with two ears had better listen!"
The Gospel of Thomas
97. Jesus said, "The [Father's] kingdom is like a woman who
was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking along
[a] distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled
behind her [along] the road. She didn't know it; she hadn't
noticed a problem. When she reached her house, she put the
jar down and discovered that it was empty."
98. Jesus said, "The Father's kingdom is like a person who
wanted to kill someone powerful. While still at home he drew
his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand
would go in. Then he killed the powerful one."
99. The disciples said to him, "Your brothers and your mother
are standing outside."
He said to them, "Those here who do what my Father wants
are my brothers and my mother. They are the ones who will
enter my Father's kingdom."
The Gospel of Thomas
100. They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, "The
Roman emperor's people demand taxes from us."
He said to them, "Give the emperor what belongs to the
emperor, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is
101. "Whoever does not hate [father] and mother as I do cannot
be my [disciple], and whoever does [not] love [father and]
mother as I do cannot be my [disciple]. For my mother [...], but
my true [mother] gave me life."
102. Jesus said, "Damn the Pharisees! They are like a dog
sleeping in the cattle manger: the dog neither eats nor [lets] the
cattle eat."
103. Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who know where the
rebels are going to attack. [They] can get going, collect their
imperial resources, and be prepared before the rebels arrive."
The Gospel of Thomas
104. They said to Jesus, "Come, let us pray today, and let us
Jesus said, "What sin have I committed, or how have I been
undone? Rather, when the groom leaves the bridal suite, then
let people fast and pray."
105. Jesus said, "Whoever knows the father and the mother will
be called the child of a whore."
106. Jesus said, "When you make the two into one, you will
become children of Adam, and when you say, 'Mountain, move
from here!' it will move."
107. 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.'"
The Gospel of Thomas
108. Jesus said, "Whoever drinks from my mouth will become
like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden
things will be revealed to him."
109. Jesus said, "The (Father's) kingdom is like a person who
had a treasure hidden in his field but did not know it. And
[when] he died he left it to his [son]. The son [did] not know
about it either. He took over the field and sold it. The buyer
went plowing, [discovered] the treasure, and began to lend
money at interest to whomever he wished."
110. Jesus said, "Let one who has found the world, and has
become wealthy, renounce the world."
111. Jesus said, "The heavens and the earth will roll up in your
presence, and whoever is living from the living one will not see
Does not Jesus say, "Those who have found themselves, of
them the world is not worthy"?
The Gospel of Thomas
112. Jesus said, "Damn the flesh that depends on the soul.
Damn the soul that depends on the flesh."
113. His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"
"It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look,
here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread
out upon the earth, and people don't see it."
[Saying probably added to the original collection at a later
114. Simon Peter said to them, "Make Mary leave us, for
females don't deserve life."
Jesus said, "Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she
too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every
female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of
Selection from Robert J. Miller, ed., The Complete Gospels: Annotated
Scholars Version. (Polebridge Press, 1992, 1994).
See also :
The five gospels
Interactive Quizzes
1. January 6, 2008
2. January 13, 2008
3. January 27, 2008
4. February 17, 2008
5. March 2, 2008
6. March 16, 2008