Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

The Coptic Gospel of Thomas

Introduction: When it was discovered near the town of Nag Hammadi in upper Egypt, this Gospel caused a sensation. It was found in an ancient Coptic monastery’s library (of which the Gospel of Philip is a part). Bits of the Coptic Gospel of Thomas had been known in Greek, but the extent and nature of the whole work were virtually unsuspected. Suddenly, the world had a book which called itself a gospel but which was only a collection of sayings; it looked like no other gospel. It had no narratives, no miracles, no passion story.

Moreover, early attempts to show that this Gospel was derived from the first three (synoptic) Gospels were not convincing. There are sayings in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas which do not occur in the New Testament Gospels. And some of the sayings in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas which are also found in Matthew or Luke appear to have been less influenced by later Christian alteration than the same sayings in the synoptic Gospels. This is particularly true of certain parables. Could it be that (1) the Coptic Gospel of Thomas represents a tradition of Jesus sayings which is independent of the New Testament Gospels, and (2) this Gospel has some sayings which are older in form than their parallels in the synoptic Gospels? Many scholars tend to answer yes to both questions.

These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.

1. And he said, “He who finds the meaning of these words will not taste death.”

2. Jesus said, “Let him who seeks not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds, he shall be troubled, and when he is troubled, he will marvel, and he will rule over the All.”

3. Jesus said, “If the ones who lead you say, ‘There is the kingdom, in heaven,’ then the birds of heaven shall go before you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish shall go before you. Rather, the kingdom is within you and outside you. If you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty and you are poverty.”

4. Jesus said, “A man who is old in his days will not hesitate to ask a baby of seven days about the place of life and he will live. For many who are first shall (be) last, and they shall become a single one.”

-19-

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