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The Gospel of Thomas

New Page – 30 April 2004

The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of Jesus' teachings “written in the name of one who should know them better than anyone: his twin brother, Didymus Judas Thomas.” [1]

The fact the alleged author is Jesus' “twin brother” might give one pause. Clearly this is not the stuff of the Catholic Church's party line. Yet the material is astoundingly similar to the canonical gospels. The distinction lies in three areas: 1) the author being a twin brother – supposedly something not to the liking of those who would claim extraordinary divinity for Jesus Christ, 2) the comparable sayings in the canonical gospels not allowing for quite the same interpretations as those in the Gospel of Thomas , and 3) the saying in Thomas going into areas notably distinct from the traditional gospels.


The authors of virtually all of the gospels are unlikely to be the same as the names attributed to them. In effect, all of the gospels – including Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Thomas, Peter, Mary Magdalen, et al – can be said to be forgeries. They were written by some unknown author who was writing down supposedly what was said or taught by the more notable figurehead. Such authorship was not necessarily intended to deceive, but may have been more the case of a celebrity having someone else do the arduous task of actually writing down the teachings – in some cases an act of admiration or humility. In the latter case, to have signed one's own name to the teachings of, say, Matthew might have been considered an act of hubris, and in some sense, a false attribution.

It is generally assumed by many scholars that Jesus had siblings. The idea of his having a twin brother is not necessarily questionable – unless of course one has the public relations job of attempting to cast a wholly unique and extraordinary character to the principal character in one's story. A twin brother might likely have as great a claim to fame as the other – and this possibility does not bode well for a contrived philosophy which demands the highest level of exceptionality for their deity.

Ehrman [1] has noted that, “The name Thomas is an Aramaic equivalent of the Greek word Didymus , which means ‘twin'. Thomas was allegedly Jesus' identical twin, other-wise known as Jude (Mark 6:3), or Didymus Judas Thomas.” The idea of a son of god sharing pre-birth space with a mortal may seem illogical, but does have at least one other example – that of the Greek god Heracles (the Roman Hercules), whose mortal twin was Iphicles. And according to the Acts of Thomas each of the apostles were supernaturally empowered to do miracles, predict the future, cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and all of the other parlor tricks of supernatural beings.


The Gospel of Thomas , however, does not depend upon its authorship to justify its impact among the faithful. Furthermore, Thomas' gospel is a complete text consisting of 114 sayings of Jesus, with virtually nothing else in the form of stories, miracles, trials, resurrection, or narratives of any kind. As many as 79 of the 114 sayings have counterparts in the New Testament Gospels, although many of the sayings in Thomas are more succinct than in the traditional gospels.

For example, in Saying 2 of the Gospel of Thomas , we have:

Jesus said, "Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will be troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the all.”

This is similar to Matthew 7:7-8, but goes several steps beyond the simple “seek and ye shall find.” [This is also – as it turns out – the equivalent to the Creed of Halexandria, i.e. “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set Ye free. But when Ye first learn the truth, Ye will likely be really ticked off! Get Ye over it. And then, laugh about it.”]

In other cases, a passage starts out in a familiar way, and then veers off into something else altogether. This is the case, for example, of Saying 113 – which begins in much the same manner as Mark 13:4 or Luke 17:20-21.

His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?" Jesus said, "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."

The big question is which version is more instructive or closer to what Jesus actually said. In this regard, Bart Ehrman [1] has asked, “Is it possible that Thomas presents a more accurate version of the sayings than, say, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (there are fewer parallels to John) – that is, a closer approximation to the way Jesus actually said them?” In this regard, as has been noted by Time Magazine [2], the Gospel of Thomas is now being read by orthodox Christians in an effort to better understand the traditional gospels. There may be much to learn in this alternative gospel.


This may be particularly true when one encounters sayings which have no comparable quote in the canonical gospels. Perhaps the most striking is Saying 1.

And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death."

This is the stuff of Gnostics – where knowledge and understanding become the key to eternal life. It's not a matter of obeying the rules of some control-freak hierarchy or out-of-control law giver, but every individual taking individual responsibility for themselves in learning or discovering the truth – and thus supposedly becoming in order: troubled, astonished, and ultimately fit for rulership. In the Gospel of Mary Magdalen, moreover, she specifically quotes Jesus as saying:

“Go then and preach the gospel of the kingdom. Do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed for you, and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it.”

It is noteworthy that additional laws and rules foisted upon believers by any religious hierarchy or authority would violate this charge by Jesus – a highly significant point in and of itself. Furthermore, there is the charge which is clearly laid upon each individual – in rather precisely the self-responsibility manner of the Gnostics. There is the added stipulation that one's life depends upon exactly this effort.

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."

The above saying 70 from the Gospel of Thomas [3] reiterates the traditional wisdom of “know thyself” and “if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.” Clearly a controlling hierarchy – which insists that a person can not be saved without a priestly external intervention (what one would not find within oneself) – can have no possible use for such advice. Small wonder that the Gospel of Thomas is not one of the canonical gospels.

Finally, there is what may be a later addition to the Gospel of Thomas , Saying 114 [3]:

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 ."

This may be interpreted on the basis that in the ancient world, male and female were not viewed as two kinds of humans, but two degrees of human. [1] The implication was that a female needed to become male in order to progress spiritually. And yet in the Gospel of Mary Magdalen [4], we have:

Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, "Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for his grace will be entirely with you and will protect you. But rather let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us into men ." [ emphasis added]

It is entirely possible that being born male does not make one a man – or at least in some sense or definition of what constitutes being a “man”. In ancient Sumeria, humans were the civilized ones, while those of the same species roaming about the wilderness were not considered to be human. In a similar fashion, one might speculate that the criteria for being a man (or male) to be one whereby the individual can do “manly things” – such as being supernaturally empowered to do miracles, predict the future, cast out demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead – among other things. Perhaps the prerequisite for being male and qualified to enter the kingdom of heaven is a bit more than mumbling forty “Hail Mary's” on a string of beads or taking a dip in the local baptismal pool.

The Gospel of Thomas , like the other Lost Gospels (Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Peter, and so forth and so on), is a fascinating document. One might suggest that an essential requirement for assuming the mantle of being called a Christian would be a careful study of all the gospels, and in no manner limit oneself to the canonical gospels. After all, the only reason that the canonical gospels are… well… canonical… is that they were made so by edict, church decree or imposed law – clearly one of those laws that Jesus said were not to be made lest one be constrained by them.



[1] Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities; The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew , Oxford University Press, New York , 2003.

[2] David Van Biema, “The Lost Gospels”, Time Magazine , December 22, 2003 .

[3] http://www.misericordia.edu/users/davies/thomas/Trans.htm

[4] http://www.thenazareneway.com/the_gospel_of_mary_magdalene.htm


Gospel of Mary Magdalen

The Lost Gospels

Comparative Religions

Forward to:

Cathedrals of Northern France

Gospel of Peter 

The Passion

Universal Perspectives

Gospel according to Daniel




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