Title from the Coptic text

Introduction


The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of traditional sayings (logoi) of Jesus. It is attributed to Didymos Judas Thomas, the "Doubting Thomas" of the canonical Gospels, and according to many early traditions, the twin brother of Jesus (didymos means "twin" in Greek).

We have two versions of the Gospel of Thomas today. The first was discovered in the late 1800's among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and consists of several fragments of a Greek version, which has been dated to around the year 200. The second is a complete version, in Coptic, from Codex II of the books discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. Thomas was probably first written in Greek (or possibly even Syriac or Aramaic) sometime between the middle of the first and second centuries.

There has been much speculation on the relationship of Thomas to the canonical Gospels. Many sayings in Thomas have parallels with the New Testament sayings, especially those found in the synoptic Gospels. This has lead some to believe that Thomas was also based, at least in part, on the so-called "Q" Document (from the German word "Quelle," meaning "source"), the source for many logoi in Matthew, Luke, and Mark. A few scholars even go as far as to speculate that Thomas may draw from the canonical gospels. Unlike the synoptic Gospels, and like Q, the Gospel of Thomas has no narrative connecting the various logoi. In form, it is simply a list of 114 sayings and brief dialogs, in no particular order. Comparison with New Testament parallels show that Thomas contains either more primitive versions of these sayings, or developments of more primitive versions. Thomas also contains many sayings not found in the canonical traditions, and which appear to derive from older oral traditions. Considering that the canonical gospels began to be taken as authoritative by the end of the first century, this seems to support the idea that Thomas was compiled at a very early date, independent of the canonical gospels. It also seems unlikely that Thomas was based on Q, not only because the two documents contain different sayings, but also because the two seem to focus on different aspects of Jesus' teachings, with Thomas emphasizing the presence of the divine within and the Kingdom of Heaven as being in the here and now. Most likely, Thomas and Q are parallel documents which both represent initial attempts at writing down the earlier oral traditions.

Although it is not possible to attribute the Gospel of Thomas to any particular sect, it appears to represent an early form of Gnosticism. As the preamble indicates, these are "secret sayings", and are intended to be esoteric in nature. The sayings are not intended to be interpreted literally, as their New Testament parallels often are, but to be interpreted symbolically, as attested by Saying 1. One symbolic feature found throughout Thomas is the use of the gender terms "male" and "female" as symbolic of different levels of spiritual awareness, a theme which was later adopted by many of the second and third century Gnostic schools. Although not attributable to any particular Gnostic or other group, it seems that it was incorporated into the literary collections of various Gnostic sects.

Whether or not Thomas represents actual sayings of Jesus, it is perhaps one of the most spiritually advanced documents produced by his followers, and in this author's opinion, probably comes closer to the original message of Jesus than do the canonical gospels (at least in their modern orthodox interpretations). The message of Thomas' Jesus is one of salvation through personal realization of the presence of the divine. The sayings of Jesus in this text sound very similar to words one might expect to hear from the mouths of the Buddha Gotama Siddharta, the Taoist philospher Lao-Tzu, or many modern psychologists and philosphers such as Aldous Huxley or Alan Watts. In the end, it matters not who spoke these words, only that they have been preserved for us, for these are words with much wisdom to impart. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear!


Translations are available for both: The translation used on this site is based primarily on the version found in The Nag Hammadi Library In English (ed. James M. Robinson), but has been modified for clarity in some places, based on translations by the authors listed here.

Of the 114 sayings in the complete work, and all of the fragments of the Greek text. Also, the Greek version contains one saying not found in the Coptic version, which comes between Sayings 32 and 33 of the Coptic version. New Testament parallels for all 114 sayings are provided for easier comparison.


Further Material: