Nag Hammadi Codex II, folio 32, the beginning of the Gospel of Thomas
By Spencer D Gear
Is the Gospel of Thomas (GThom) heretical and does it include Gnostic-type teachings? Could there be anything that is heretical in this document found with Gnostic documents near Nag Hammadi, upper Egypt, in December 1945?
There are scholars of the Jesus Seminar who use the Gospel of Thomas as authoritative as the 4 canonical Gospels. John Dominic Crossan affirms Patterson’s view that GThom contains “rudimentary Gnosticism” and the extent of this Gnosticism “is not yet fully charted” as it “is not a full blown gnostic gospel”. Crossan’s view is that it is “a borderline text that could have been pulled either toward or away from gnosticism” (Crossan 1998:271).
Let’s check out some statements from a translation of the Gospel of Thomas that should raise issues of conflict with NT Gospels:
GThom 1-7 states:
These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.
1 And he said, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”
2 Jesus said, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest.]”
3 Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) 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 within you and it is outside you.</FATHER’S>
When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.”
4 Jesus said, “The person old in days won’t hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live.
For many of the first will be last, and will become a single one.”
5 Jesus said, “Know what is in front of your face, and what is hidden from you will be disclosed to you.
For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. [And there is nothing buried that will not be raised.”]
6 His disciples asked him and said to him, “Do you want us to fast? How should we pray? Should we give to charity? What diet should we observe?”
Jesus said, “Don’t lie, and don’t do what you hate, because all things are disclosed before heaven. After all, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered up that will remain undisclosed.”
7 Jesus said, “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human” (emphasis added).
GThom 13 states,
Jesus said to his disciples, “Compare me to something and tell me what I am like.” Simon Peter said to him, “You are like a just messenger.” Matthew said to him, “You are like a wise philosopher.” Thomas said to him, “Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like.” Jesus said, “I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended.” And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, “What did Jesus say to you?” Thomas said to them, “If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you” (emphasis added)
GThom 22 states:
Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him, “Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?”
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]” (emphasis added)
Simon Peter said to them, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.” Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (emphasis added).
The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas is radically different from the Jesus revealed in the NT Gospels. GThom has a private, esoteric emphasis throughout and presupposes the teaching of Jesus in the NT but claims to record secret, hidden words that are radically different from the NT Gospels.
Recall what Jesus said about believers (his followers) having faith (e.g. John 3:16), but GThom 1 says that Jesus’ disciples should find “the interpretation of these sayings” and for these people, they will not taste death.
This is not biblical Christianity.
There are enough statements in GThom to indicate clearly that the source of these words is not Jesus. Like the quote I gave you from GThom 114, part of which stated,
Jesus said, “Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven” (emphasis added).
This is so contradictory to what Jesus stated in the four canonical gospels. Do you think that Jesus would say that a female must make herself a male to enter God’s kingdom?
This is heretical Gnostic teaching or Gnostic-like teaching. So, why are you wanting to accept GThom as a source of Jesus’ teaching? GThom has many places of foreign, heretical teaching when compared with the NT Gospels?
The Gnostic Society Library states:
The Gospel of Thomas, one of the Gnostic texts found preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library, gives these words of the living Jesus:
Jesus said, `I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling stream which I have measured out…. 12
He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him.’ 13
Of GThom 13, the Gnostic Society Library makes this comment, ‘He who will drink from my mouth will become as I am: What a remarkably heretical image!’
That’s about as good a summary as we will get of the heretical teaching in The Gospel of Thomas.
These are some quotes in the Gnostic Bible from the Gospel of Thomas? These are some examples:
- The Gospel of Thomas (12) says that heaven and earth came into being for the sake of James (Yaakov). The Gnostic Bible, p. 47;
- The Gospel of Thomas (31) says that a doctor does not heal those who know the doctor. Apparently those who know the Gnostic Jesus are not healed by him! The Gnostic Bible, p. 53;
- In The Gospel of Thomas (57) Jesus mentions they have to bear the cross like he did. The Gnostic Bible, p. 57;
- In the Gospel of Thomas (100) Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, give to God what is God’s, and “give me mine.” The Gnostic Bible, p. 67.
What about these sayings from GThom?
In GThom 108, Jesus says, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to him.”
In GThom 70, Jesus says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not bring it forth, what you do not have within you will kill you.”
So the Gnostic Society and The Gnostic Bible both consider that the Gospel of Thomas has Gnostic content. This GThom radical content is far, far from biblical Christianity as revealed in the NT Gospels. It is regarded as containing heresy by the Gnostic Society Library.
Evangelical Christians should also regard The Gospel of Thomas as containing heresy.
Nicholas Perrin (2007) is a researcher on the nature of the Gospel of Thomas. He states that it ‘issued from a mid-to-late second-century Syriac milieu’ (2007:viii). Perrin’s assessment is that
the Gospel of Thomas invites us to imagine a Jesus who says, ‘I am not your saviour, but the one who can put you in touch with your true self. Free yourself from your gender, your body, and any concerns you might have for the outside world. Work for it and self-realization, salvation will be yours – in this life’. Imagine such a Jesus? One need hardly work very hard. This is precisely the Jesus we know too well, the existential Jesus that so many western evangelical and liberal churches already preach (Perrin 2007:139).
What is heresy?
In New Testament Greek, the term from which we get “heresy” is hairesis. Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon states that hairesis means ‘sect, party, school’. It was used of the Sadduccees in Acts 5:17; of the Pharisees in Acts 15:5. Of the Christians in Acts 24:5. It is used of a heretical sect or those with destructive opinions in 2 Peter 2:1 (“destructive heresies” ESV).
The article on hairesis in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Vol. 1, p. 182ff) states that its “usage in Acts corresponds exactly to that of Josephus and the earlier Rabbis” but the development of the Christian sense of heresy does not parallel this Rabbinic use. When the ekklesia came into being, there was no place for hairesis. They were opposed to each other. This author states that “the greater seriousness consists in the fact that hairesis affect the foundation of the church in doctrine (2 Pt. 2:1), and that they do so in such a fundamental way as to give rise to a new society alongside the ekklesia” (Kittel Vol I:183).
From the NT, we see the term, heresy, being used to mean what Paul called strange doctrines, different doctrine, doctrines of demons, every wind of doctrine (See 1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1;6:3; Ephesians 4:14), as contrasted with sound doctrine, our doctrine, the doctrine conforming to godliness, the doctrine of God (See 1 Timothy 4:6; 6:1,3;2 Timothy 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10).
I recommend Nicholas Perrin (2007) and Craig Evans (2007:52-77) for excellent assessments of the Gospel of Thomas and how it contradicts the NT Gospels.
Crossan, J D 1998. The birth of Christianity: Discovering what happened in the years immediately after the execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco. Also available (online) HERE (Accessed 13 September 2011).
Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the gospels. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.
Kittel, G (ed) 1964. Theological dictionary of the New Testament, trans. & ed. by G. W. Bromiley (vol 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Perrin, N 2007. Thomas, the other gospel. London: SPCK.
 A person stated this on Christian Forums, the thread, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’: ‘What is so heretical about the gospel of Thomas, found in the Nag Hamadi (sic) scripture. Much of what is found in the text can be found in the bible. The gospel of Thomas should be viewed as a source of Truth.
‘Afterall, if much of it is the words of Jesus then why can’t the rest of it be the words of Jesus? It places a new perspective on the word of Christ if what can be found within it can be believed to be true’.
 See a discussion of the Nag Hammadi Library on Wikipedia at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nag_Hammadi_library (Accessed 13 September 2011).
 A person on Christian Forums, ‘The Gospel of Thomas’ thread, stated, ‘I wasn’t suggesting that the gospel of Thomas should be added to the canon. I was merely suggesting that it should not be viewed as such heresy when it clearly has value. When it clearly contains the spoken words of Jesus, it may be that the whole thing is in fact the gospel of his disciple, the one they called Thomas. It’s not so far out there and the words spoken within the text are very Christ-like’. This person does not want to view the Gospel of Thomas as heretical. Hopefully, the following quotes from GThom will help to show that there are heretical teachings in GThom when compared with the NT Scriptures.
Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 October 2015.