Simon Peter said to Jesus, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.”
Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
An Excerpt from The Gospel of Thomas
In light of popular media and its obsessions with the ‘other gospels’, and after reading and learning about the Gospel of Thomas for myself, I wanted to come to convictions about whether or not reading such a book has any value at all, for both Christians (who want to love Jesus) and for non-Christians (who would want to know this Jesus). As of now, my convictions stand that it doesn’t have much value in regards to learning about Christ at all.
There are many reasons, and a good number of books have been written on the subject, but I will only highlight two:
- This document is clearly a “gnostic” document, and no one would argue otherwise. By gnostic we mean a document that is written and perpetuated with gnostic philosophies and motivations in mind, hence the very first line of the document: “These are the SECRET sayings of Jesus…”The document contains a heavy amount of similarities from the canonical gospels with additions of pretty unique ideas and ‘sayings’ as well. Granted, the canonical gospels are “colored” as well in a sense that they are written from a certain perspective, albeit different.But this perspective is exactly why the canonical gospels are of value and why the Gospel of Thomas isn’t.The canonical gospels are written from a perspective that the life of Jesus was a CONTINUATION of God’s dealing with his people from the Old Testament and the writers are witnesses of those things. The narrative of his life, describing what he said and what he did, are written from this perspective, and for me, that is the correct one to be looking from. The Gospel of Thomas is a totally separate document which has its perspective (obviously) from a Gnostic one.This is why, as you read it, you’ll find very outlandish sayings such as the one above. It doesn’t take a genius to read through this document to conclude that that there’s something nutty going on here…
- Perhaps the confusion in weighing the value of the Gospel of Thomas is tainted by the supposition that it is an “early” document, some suggesting predating even the canonical gospels themselves. If you told the average person that this is a document that was written before the canonical gospels, of course they would re-question the value and the validity of both.However, in my studies, I have found that this early date is very over generous.
Note the following observations: Some of the quotations taken from the canonical gospels are taken from a late Syriac translation, not an early Greek one, arguing for a late second century date, not an early pre-gospel date as some have supposed.
Secondly, the fact that it contains Syriac themes and principles e.g. asceticism, celibacy, and vegetarianism also argues for that it is indeed a Syriac document.Thirdly, the Gospel of Thomas’s existence isn’t even mentioned until the 3rd century by Origen (in a condemning manner), when the canonical ones have been mentioned by church fathers for the previous two centuries.
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. It is a late, Syriac document that probably arose, in the earliest, late second century.
When reflecting upon the value of this text, I do consider these reasons offered are worth considering.
The value of reading the Gospel of Thomas, for me, is limited to seeing what people thought about Jesus during the ‘early church’ period, and is missional, ensuring that those who hear of Jesus will hear of real one who can give life to the dead. But in regards to the God of the Bible, it’s a throwaway in regards to value for faith and a relationship with God.
Feel free to move on, knowing that there really isn’t anything new on under the sun.