Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 010 Jesus has cast fire

Early Christian Writings Commentary

Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 10

Subheading:  This page explores modern interpretations of the Gospel according to Thomas, an ancient text preserved in a Coptic translation at Nag Hammadi and Greek fragments at Oxyrhynchus. With no particular slant, this commentary gathers together quotations from various scholars in order to elucidate the meaning of the sayings, many of which are rightly described as “obscure.”

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FromEarly Christian Writings 

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Horst Balz. (T87)
Bentley Layton. (T68)
Harold W Attridge. (T34)
Jean Doresse. (T81)
Robert Funk. (T71)

Our Ref:
ECST: 014.10.000.T34
ECST: 014.10.000.T68
ECST: 014.10.000.T71
ECST: 014.10.000.T81
ECST: 014.10.000.T87

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text

Gospel of Thomas Coptic Text

BLATZ1)4CM Translator ID: T87

(10) Jesus said: I have cast a fire upon the world, and see, I watch over it until it is ablaze.

LAYTON2)4CM Translator ID: T68

(10) Jesus said, “I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am watching over it until it blazes.”

DORESSE3)4CM Translator ID: T81

10 [10]. Jesus says: “I have cast a fire onto the world, and see, I watch over it until it blazes up!”

Funk’s Parallels4)4CM Translator ID: T71

GThom 16
Luke 12:49-53
Matt 10:34-39

Scholarly Quotes

R. McL. Wilson writes: “Logion 10 has a parallel in Luke 12:49, but with a change of emphasis. The canonical version looks to the future: ‘I came to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’ In Thomas the fire has been kindled: ‘I have cast fire upon the world, and behold, I guard it until it is ablaze.’ This raises an interesting problem in relation to the common source of Matthew and Luke, since Matthew 10:34 records a saying, ‘I came not to cast peace, but a sword.’ As already observed, something like this appears in logion 16, but in the saying in Thomas ‘division’ and ‘fire’ are paralleled in Luke, ‘sword’ in Matthew. The question is whether in Thomas we have a conflation of the two synoptic versions, or a form of the saying derived from an independent tradition.”

Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 110-111

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “A similar saying in Luke 12:49 is clearly eschatological. ‘I came to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish that it were already kindled.’ Thomas changes future to past and present. The fire has been ignited, and Jesus keeps the world until it burns up; to be near the fire is to be near Jesus and the kingdom (Saying 82).” 

The Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 128

Marvin Meyer writes: “The gnostic document Pistis Sophia 141 has Jesus utter a nearly identical saying. Jesus, who is called Aberamentho, says, ‘For this reason I said to you, “I have come to throw fire upon the earth,” that is, I have come to cleanse the sins of the whole world with fire.’ See also Gospel of Thomas saying 15.”

The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 73

Funk and Hoover write: “Both the context and the form of the saying in Thomas distinguish it from the Lukan version (‘I came to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!’). In Luke, the saying is part of a cluster probably already formed in Q, and reflects the early Christian community’s mythologized view of Jesus as one who came into the world for its redemption. In Thomas, the saying appears as a single aphorism, not part of a cluster, and with none of the Christianizing language of the Lukan version. The saying in Thomas is thus probably not dependent on Q or Luke, but represents an independent tradition.”

The Five Gospels, pp. 478-479

Gerd Ludemann writes: “The logion is similar to Luke 12.49, but can hardly have come from there (cf. by contrast the adoption and interpretation of Luke 12.49 in the Gnostic writing Pistis Sophia IV 141: it means the cleansing of the sins of the whole world by fire). The key to its understanding is ‘world’ (Luke: earth), a word which appears sixteen times alone in the Gospel of Thomas and in it has a predominantly negative sense (cf. Logion 56). In Logion 82 ‘fire’ is connected with the nearness of Jesus. So the meaning seems to be that Jesus’ presence will set on fire the world, understood in negative terms.”

Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 595

References   [ + ]

1. 4CM Translator ID: T87
2. 4CM Translator ID: T68
3. 4CM Translator ID: T81
4. 4CM Translator ID: T71

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