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Chapter One. I will introduce the Gospel of Thomas, its discovery at Nag Hammadi

and its history in scholarship. Outline of the nature of the Gospel of Thomas. It is a

list of sayings containing virtually no narrative. About half the sayings are paralleled

in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke but virtually none of the

sayings are paralled in John’s gospel. Discussion of Thomas’ relationship to the more

Gnostic documents in the Nag Hammadi collection, leading to consideration of the

issues Thomas and the other non-canonical gospels raise about the diversity of

opinion in the early church regarding Jesus, his message, and the central purpose of

the Christian religion. Why the old “is it gnostic” question is no longer thought to be

a particularly useful or meaningful one. Summary of some recent writing on Thomas:

Elaine Pagels, Richard Valantasis, Risto Uro. I will assume I am writing to an

audience that knows nothing about this.

Chapter Two. An irenic discussion of the question of Thomas’ relationship to the

Biblical Gospels. Fundamentally, is Thomas derived from those Gospels (dependence

theory) or is it independent of those Gospels? Why this question is so important and

why it is that this question seems to have taken on a “liberal” versus “conservative”

Christian political coloration. Because it will be used throughout the book, I’ll give an

explanation and defense of the Two Source Hypothesis (Q hypothesis) and the

scholarly consensus favoring Markan priority. Arguments in favor of Thomasine

dependence include the occasional appearance of supposedly redactional elements in

Thomasine sayings, in other words, that changes made by Matthew or Luke in Mark’s

sayings seem to occur in Thomas. Discussion of the “secondary orality” theory,

which is that Thomas’ sayings are taken from oral tradition sayings that were

themselves derived from popular use of the Biblical Gospels. How it is that this is a

non-falsifiable thesis without much merit. Next, I’ll give the arguments for

independence: the lack of similar sayings order, the odd fact that Thomas’ sayings

appear to have been revised back toward original versions, if they are indeed taken

from the Biblical Gospels. The almost complete absence of any signs of Matthean or

Lukan redaction in Thomasine sayings. Various explanations for why redactional

material occasionally seems to appear in Thomas. My conclusion will be that the

independence thesis carries the day but that the issue is not settled and may never be.

Chapter 3. Beginning with saying 1, which implies that Thomas’ hidden or secret

sayings are riddles, compare Mark 4:11-12 where Jesus claims his parables are

incomprehensible to those outside the inner circle. How it is that many sayings

circulating as proverbs and parables and isolated from a context in life are literally

meaningless. Sayings 97 and 98 are examples of Jesus’ parables that have not had 2

millenia of interpretation and so can be heard ab novo… and are incomprehensible.

The need to create narrative to make sayings understandable was a fundamental

motivation for Mark to write a gospel in the first place. How Mark seems to have

used sayings in the construction of narrative, especially the alteration of a proverb

found as Thomas 31 into a story in Mark 6:1-6. Possibly similar for Thomas 14c

Mark 7:1-23. How proverbs must have a context; a proverb can be true, but what is it

true about, e.g. saying 41 (‘the rich get richer and the poor get poorer’) and Biblical

applications thereof. Examples of Thomas sayings that have been given meaning

through their insertion into Biblical gospels’ narrative contexts… and how those

meanings often differ as different authors provide different contexts.

Chapter Four (possibly two chapters). Various considerations. What are we to make

of the fact that most of Thomas’ parables use people’s actions as a simile for the

Kingdom while Synoptic parable variants sometimes use things as simile: Thomas 96

“The Kingdom is like a woman who took leaven” vs. Q Luke 13:20-21 // Matthew

13:33 “The Kingdom is like leaven that a woman took.” There is an interesting

connection between Thomas 24 // Matt 6:22, Luke 11:34 and emission theory of

vision advocated by Euclid and Ptolemy among others. How born-again and “not

born of woman” connect in Thomas and John and in synoptic sayings about John the

Baptist. Pantocrator sayings in Proverbs 8 leading to Thomas 77 and many New

Testament sayings: Hebrews 1:2, Colossians 1:15-17, John 1:1-3 etc. all of which

may originate as reflections connected to Proverbs 8; how do their conceptions of

Jesus pantocrator differ from that in Thomas? What are we to make of Thomas 17

showing up in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 2:9, and in 1 John 1:1-4. There is an interesting

history of Thomas 3 from Duteronomy 30:10-15, Job 28:12-27, Baruch 3:29–4:1,

Romans 10:5-10. Thomas 38 has Jesus as Wisdom in the fashion of Proverbs 1:28 in

a manner also found in John’s gospel. How it is possible to complete fragmentary NT

sayings with the assistance of the Thomas version, e.g. 93. How coherent sets of

parables may arise from use of Biblical and Thomasine versions. Finding the one-

great-thing and discarding the rest as a parable-set motif including the Great Fish, Big

Sheep, Treasure, Pearl parables. Parables lacking the evangelists’ interpretive settings

do not automatically fit readings that assume that the principal character is God or

Christ but, rather, in a remarkable set of instances the principal character acts stupidly

(Thomas 9, 64, 65 and Mark chapter 4 explanatory paradigm). Discussion of the

many versions of the saying having to do with faith and moving mountains into the

sea; the various versions and meanings within the Gospel of Thomas and in the other

gospels. This section of the book will not make any one particular sustained argument

but will discuss various subjects separately.

Chapter Five. “Jesus the rabbi” is a very common modern paradigm for Jesus, but in

Thomas there are deliberate contradictions to Judean torah law, e.g. 14 and 63.

Similar contradictions in Mark 2 and Mark 7, some also in Thomas e.g. 47, 104. The

idea of Jesus teaching against Torah law correlates with persecution reports by Paul

and persecution reports found in Mark and in Thomas 68. The probable invention of

“Jesus the rabbi” by Matthew takes place as a revision of Mark in next generation; a

teacher against Torah (at least in some respects) becomes a proto-talmudic teacher in

favor of Torah and fence around Torah. One must consider the influence of Jesus’

Galilean origins here; it is not reasonable to presume that a Galilean is ipso facto a

Judean with a Judean (aka Jewish) view of Torah and Temple. Matthew’s

construction of Jesus as a pharisaic rabbi happens through a shift of the sayings from

a narrative-free disorganized list, in Thomas, to narrative dialogues in biographical

setting in Mark, to rabbinical sermons in Matthew, especially 5:1 – 7:29: the Sermon

on the Mount. Possibly Thomas 6 gave rise to chapter 6:1-18 in Matthew’s sermon.

How other Thomas//Q and Thomas//Mark sayings are used and interpreted in the

Sermon on the Mount and how that sermon is Matthew’s construction and not Jesus’.

Chapter Six. Discussion of the disciples in Thomas, who stand-in for the growing

orthodox Christian communities compared to the disciples in the Gospel of Mark

where they also fail to understand and end up betraying, denying and deserting Jesus,

and also Paul’s personal problems with disciples e.g. Peter in Antioch and

presumably James Peter John’s influence in Galatia. How this view of the disciples

turns around in Matthew and Luke where disciples become heroes, as they remain to

the present day. The disciples became symbolic heroes of orthodox Christianity and

thus we find non-disciples becoming symbolic heroes of non-orthodox Christianity…

especially Mary Magdalene in Gospel of Mary (etc.) who is a heroine opposed by

disciples. This leads back to Gospel of Thomas 114 where Mary is opposed by the

disciples, especially Peter, and into discussion of Thomas 21 which seems at first

glance favourable to disciples but probably originally was an attack on them as

thieves. How all this relates to Thomas 3 where “those who lead you” are mistaken at

the outset of the text and how the disciples function in Thomas as foils: they ask the

wrong questions and must be corrected by Jesus. Finally how there are specific hints

of Thomasine influence (via Thomas 13) in the new Gospel of Judas (we can make

fair-use of the National Geo material even if we can’t get hold of it all; the new

partial translation in the New York Review of Books latest issue is an improvement


Chapter Seven. I will make a sustained argument that Mark used Thomas as a source

(or, perhaps, a subset or source of Thomas). I will not be pushing this too hard, but

suggesting that it is a theory worthy of consideration, one that allows for the

possibility of redaction criticism of Mark. A version of this chapter has been

published as a two part essay in the biblical studies journal Neotestamentica; those

essays would be revised and simplified somewhat for this book. Arguments include

the fact that Mark 12:1-12 and Thomas 65 – 66 are fundamentally the same things;

Mark has constructed that parable and Hebrew Bible passage so as to reflect his

primary interest, the death of Jesus and the consequences thereof. In Thomas we have

a parable and a HB passage that are unrelated and disconnected. It is much more

likely that the Thomas material was reworked for Mark’s particular views than vice

versa. Similar argument for Mark 8:27-33 and Thomas 13. In the chapters on Jesus'

public ministry (Mark 1:1-8:22 and 11:1-12:44), thirty six separate sayings can be

counted that are neither pure Markan constructions nor occasional comments

attributed to Jesus in the course of stories about his miracles. Twenty-one of the 36

Markan sayings have parallels in Thomas: 58%. Of the 21 sayings where Jesus

addresses his "Associates," 16, or 76%, have parallels in Thomas (As Jesus'

"associates" I include both his disciples and the other people whom Jesus addresses

either in large groups or in more intimate assemblages.) Of the 9 sayings labeled

"parables" by Mark, 8 are to be found in Thomas (89%). Of the 21 Thomas paralleled

sayings, 20 are either addressed by Jesus to Associates or characterized as parables or

both (95%). The only exception is the "render unto Caesar" chreia. Conversely, Jesus

addresses or refers to "authorities" in 15 sayings, only 5 of which are paralleled in

Thomas, 33%; of those 5, however, 4 are labeled parables (by "authorities" I mean

those people labeled herodians, priests, lawyers, elders, scribes, sadducees and

pharisees in Mark's Gospel). Of the ten sayings that are addressed to or refer to

"authorities," but which are not labeled parables, seven cite the Hebrew Bible. The

one citation of the Hebrew Bible that is to be found in Thomas paralleled material is

labeled, uniquely, a parable. Throughout chapters 1-8:22 and 11-12 of the Gospel of

Mark, whenever Jesus speaks to his associates or when he is said to speak in parables,

a full 75% of the time he does so with words paralleled to one degree or another in

the Gospel of Thomas. When we look at the occurrence of Thomas-paralleled

material in Mark, it is usually grouped together. Of the 21 paralleled sayings, three

occur in the sequence 2:18-22, two in the sequence 7:14-23, three in the sequence

12:1-17, and no fewer than eleven are found in the sequence 3:27-4:32 although here

we do find one saying (4:25) that is not in Thomas and the sequence is interrupted by

redactional material at 4:10-20. Only two Thomas-paralleled sayings are freestanding,

while 90% of them are aggregated. How all of this, and more, indicates a close

connection between Thomas and Mark leading toward the conclusion that Mark used

Thomas, or that Mark used an earlier shorter version of what we now know as


Chapter Eight. The only really Thomasine passage in the synoptic gospels is Luke

17:20-21, one similar to Thomas 113 and 3b. Segue from that fact into a chapter on

the fundamental meaning of Thomasine Christianity and how it is not the same as the

synoptic or Johannine Christianity, and not really Gnostic either. Adapt simplify and

update my "The Christology and Protology of the Gospel of Thomas" from the

Journal of Biblical Literature Volume 111, Number 4, Winter 1992. Main point is

that the Thomasine Christians found the Kingdom of God in the world now, an idea

Biblically grounded in the view that the Kingdom has persisted invisibly from the

time of Genesis 1:1-2:4 to the present; a second creation follows in Genesis 2:5 etc.

including Adam’s creation and fall (see Thomas 85) and that one is the one people

usually see. A “return to the beginning” (Thomas 18, 19) discovered privately in the

present by Thomasine Christians is the conceptual opposite of the apocalyptic

Biblical and orthodox view that the Kingdom is coming publicly and in the future.

Probably will have to revise this essay to make it a bit more accessable to amateur

audience, but it makes a nice conclusion for the book, gives it some authority among

professionals, and might get us a nice blurb from Elaine Pagels.

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