Education

Why the Gospel of Thomas is Not Considered Scripture

Have you heard about the Gospel of Thomas? This ancient text containing 114 sayings attributed to Jesus was discovered in Egypt in 1945. But why isn't it included in the Bible?

The Gospel of Thomas is a fascinating extra-biblical text, but biblical scholars agree it does not belong in the canon of Christian scripture. Let's explore the origins, history, and teachings of the Gospel of Thomas to understand why it's excluded from the Bible.

History and Origins of the Mysterious Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of logia or sayings and parables believed to be spoken by Jesus. It was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in December 1945, in a leather-bound Coptic language papyrus codex.

This codex was among 52 ancient manuscripts found in a sealed jar, dating back to around 340-400 CE. These texts are collectively known as the Nag Hammadi library and consist primarily of Gnostic Christian documents.

The Gospel of Thomas manuscript found at Nag Hammadi contains 114 sayings attributed to Jesus. Although it's called a "gospel", it lacks any narrative about Jesus's life, ministry, miracles, parables, death, or resurrection. It simply records these sayings without any context.

The text begins:

"These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded."

So who exactly is credited with writing down these collected sayings? Didymos Judas Thomas is believed to be a reference to the apostle Thomas, also known as Doubting Thomas. However, biblical scholars overwhelmingly agree that Thomas did not actually record these sayings.

The Gospel of Thomas was composed in Greek sometime between 140-200 CE, most likely around 150 CE. This date range places it mid-to-late 2nd century, nearly 100 years after the traditional gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written.

As none of the 12 apostles lived past the 1st century, the Gospel of Thomas could not have been authored by Thomas or any other eyewitness of Jesus's ministry. The unknown author simply attributed the sayings to apostolic authority.

In the early centuries of Christianity, many spurious writings emerged claiming apostolic authorship, called pseudepigrapha. The Gospel of Thomas is one such pseudepigraphical work, falsely claiming authority but written long after the apostles' lifetimes.

So how did this 2nd century text end up in Egypt? The Gospel of Thomas was likely composed in Syria, and then brought to the library in Egypt by early Gnostic Christians. This explains its discovery among other Gnostic documents.

Gnostic Influence Shapes the Gospel of Thomas

What exactly is Gnosticism and how did it impact the Gospel of Thomas?

Gnosticism was a prominent heretical movement in the 2nd century that influenced certain sects of early Christianity. Gnostics believed in a dualism between the material world (created by an inferior deity) and the spiritual realm.

Salvation was attained through gnōsis, or hidden mystical knowledge, rather than faith alone. Gnostics denied Christ's bodily incarnation and resurrection, since they viewed matter as evil.

Gnostic concepts appear throughout the Gospel of Thomas. It emphasizes attaining secret wisdom and knowledge as the path to salvation. The sayings portray Jesus as a dispenser of wisdom, rather than a resurrected savior.

About a quarter of the 114 sayings closely parallel sayings found in the New Testament gospels. However, the Gospel of Thomas adapts many of these into a Gnostic perspective.

For example, Saying 3 states:

“If your leaders say to you ‘Look, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside you and it is outside you.”

This echoes Luke 17:21 but adds the Gnostic view that the kingdom is within each person rather than a future hope or literal location.

Other sayings promote concepts like asceticism, celibacy, and detachment from the material world. The Gospel of Thomas lacks any mention of Jesus's death and resurrection, nor does it discuss love, relationships, or ethics.

By mixing biblical sayings with Gnostic perspectives, the Gospel of Thomas reflects how Gnosticism developed within fringe branches of early Christianity. But clearly, its teachings diverged from orthodox Christian beliefs.

Why the Gospel of Thomas Doesn't Belong in the Bible

Given its fascinating contents, why did the Gospel of Thomas get excluded from the biblical canon? What criteria disqualified it from being scripture?

Firstly, the late date of authorship ruled it out. All books of the New Testament were written within the 1st century AD, while eyewitnesses of Jesus's ministry were still alive. The Gospel of Thomas was written around 150 CE when all eyewitnesses would have been long deceased.

Additionally, the unknown authorship made its authenticity suspect. The books of the New Testament were written either by apostles (Matthew, John) or those with direct contact to eyewitnesses (Mark, Luke). The Gospel of Thomas made a false claim of apostolic authorship.

The Gospel of Thomas belongs to the genre of sayings gospels, which simply record the sayings of Jesus rather than a narrative of his life and ministry. The four canonical gospels all include narrative accounts of Jesus's miracles, parables, death, and resurrection. The lack of any narrative context raises questions about the legitimacy of the sayings.

Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas's divergence from orthodox Christianity made it inconsistent with the teachings found in the New Testament gospels and letters. The Gnostic concepts and esoteric emphasis contradict the biblical focus on Jesus's incarnation, sacrificial death for sin, and bodily resurrection.

Finally, no early church fathers ever quoted the Gospel of Thomas as scripture. There are no references to the Gospel of Thomas in any canonical list of New Testament books, or any mention of early Christians accepting it as scripture. By contrast, the four gospels were widely used and unanimously accepted very early in church history.

Conclusion: An Interesting Text, but Not Scripture

While the Gospel of Thomas is an interesting Gnostic document worth studying, it lacks the authenticity and reliability to be considered scripture. Given its late date of authorship, divergence from orthodox Christianity, and lack of early use among Christians, biblical scholars unanimously reject it as non-canonical.

The biblical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have withstood scrutiny and criticism over two millennia. Their authenticity is supported by internal consistency, external confirmation, and historical evidence. The Gospel of Thomas reflects the syncretistic mixing of Christian teachings with trendy Gnostic ideas long after the time of the apostles.

The Gospel of Thomas will continue to be an important source for historians studying Gnosticism's influence on early Christianity. But for Christians interested in reliable scripture, the New Testament gospels are the only authentic written accounts of Jesus's life and teachings.

So next time you hear someone claim the Gospel of Thomas was unfairly excluded from the Bible, you'll know the historical facts that led scholars to a very different conclusion. The Gospel of Thomas is a noteworthy Gnostic text, but certainly not divinely inspired scripture.

Comments