Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 000 (Prologue Jesus spoke and Thomas wrote.)

Early Christian Writings Commentary

Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Prologue

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

BLATZ[1]4CM Translator ID: T87

[Prologue.] These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and which Didymus Judas Thomas wrote down.

LAYTON[2]4CM Translator ID: T68

[Prologue.] These are the obscure sayings that the living Jesus uttered and which Didymus Jude Thomas wrote down.

DORESSE[3]4CM Translator ID: T81

[Prologue.] Here are the secret words which Jesus the Living spoke, and which Didymus Jude Thomas wrote down.

Funk’s Parallels[4]4CM Translator ID: T71

• POxy654 Prologue
• Matt 1:1 KJV
• Mark 1:1 KJV
• InThom 1 (Infancy Gospel of Thomas)
• Book of Thomas the Contender II 138.1-4
• ApJas 1:1-2 (First Apocalypse of James)

Oxyrhynchus Greek Fragment

Gospel of Thomas Greek Text

DORESSE – Oxyrhynchus[5]4CM Translator ID: T81

Here are the [secret] words which Jesus the Living spoke an[d which were transcribed by Didymus Jude] Thomas.

ATTRIDGE – Oxyrhynchus[6]4CM Translator ID: T34

(Prologue) These are the [secret] sayings [which] the living Jesus [spoke, and which Judas, who is] also Thomas, [wrote down].

Scholarly Quotes

“The incipit, or opening of the document, provides what is most likely the earlier version of the title. A second, later title is given at the end of the document: ‘The Gospel According to Thomas.’ A similar incipit opens another document from the Nag Hammadi Library, Book of Thomas 138, 1-4: ‘The hidden sayings that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas, which I, Mathaias, in turn recorded. I was walking, listening to them speak with each other.'” (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 67)

Marvin Meyer suggests that “the living Jesus” is “probably not the resurrected Christ as commonly understood, but rather Jesus who lives through his sayings.” (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 67)

Marvin Meyer writes

logoi: The use of this word to designate the ‘sayings’ of Jesus in these fragments should be noted. Nowhere do we find logia used of these sayings; Grenfell and Hunt were, therefore, not accurate in entitling the preliminary publication of Oxy P 1 Logia Iesou, which did not, of course, become apparent until the discovery of Oxy P 654.

From the time of Herodotus on logion meant ‘oracle’, ‘a saying derived from a deity’. In the LXX it denotes the ‘word of God’, having lost the Greek nuance of ‘oracle’ and acquired that of OT revelation. In this sense we find it in Acts 7:38; Rom 3:2; 1 Pt 4:11; Heb 5:12 (see G. Kittel, TDNT 4, 137-41).

In A. Resch’s collection of Agrapha (TU 30 [1906]) we find the word used only twice, and in each case it refers to the OT. See further J. Donovan, The Logia in Ancient and Recent Literature (Cambridge, 1927). The use of logoi here for the sayings of Jesus can be compared to Mt 15:12 and especially to Acts 20:35, mnemoneuein te ton logon tou Kyriou Iesou hoti autos eipen. See also Clement of Rome, Ad. Cor. 13:1; 46:7 (ed. K. Bihlmeyer, pp. 42, 60) for the use of this word to designate the sayings of Jesus.

Now that we know that the Greek fragments belong to a text of the Gospel according to Thomas, there is no longer room for the speculation that possibly they contain part of the Logia on which Papias wrote his commentary or of the Logia that Matthew collected (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3, 39, 1 and 16).

Consequently, it is better not to refer to the sayings either in the Oxyrhynchus fragments or in the Coptic Gospel According to Thomas(where the word used is sage, ‘word, saying’) as logiapace R. North (CBQ24 [1962] 164, etc.).” (Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, pp. 366-367)

Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes

“‘Jesus the living one’ probably means ‘Jesus the ever-living one’. It is common form in Gnostic Gospels to represent the esoteric teaching or gnosis which they contain as delivered by Jesus to his chosen disciples during his appearances to them after he was raised from the dead. But there is no esoteric flavour about the sayings collected in the Gospel of Thomas; many of them can be paralleled from the canonical Gospels (especially Luke) and many others are of the same matter-of-fact order.

Perhaps it was not the sayings themselves but their interpretation in the circle from which the Gospel of Thomas came that the compiler regarded as ‘secret’. As for the threefold name Didymus Judas Thomas, Didymus is the Greek word for ‘twin’ and is used in the Gospel of John (11.16; 20.24; 21.2) to explain Thomas, which is the Aramaic word for ‘twin’ (t’oma).

In Syriac Christian tradition he is identified with the ‘Judas not Iscariot’ who belonged to the company of the Twelve: in the Old Syriac Gospels the question of John 14.22 is said to have been put to the Lord by ‘Judas Thomas’.” (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 112)

F. F. Bruce writes

“Of the general character of the text it must suffice to say for the moment that it was found in a Gnostic library and contains little or nothing which could not be adapted to a Gnostic use. The opening words, again, might be thought to suggest a Gnostic origin: ‘These are the secret words which the living Jesus spake.’ The work, that is, purports to contain esoteric teaching delivered, like other similar revelations, by the risen Lord in the period between the Resurrection and the Ascension.

It may be, however, that too much should not be made of this, since the Greek word APOKRUFOS did not always have the disparaging sense which later became attached to it. In Gnostic circles it was used of books the contents of which were too sacred to be divulged to the common herd, and it was in fact the heretical associations which it thus came to possess which led to its use as a term of disparagement.

In the Nag Hammadi library, for example, one document bears the title Apocryphon or Secret Book of John, another that of Apocryphon of James, and several Gnostic gospels contain solemn warnings against imparting their contents to any save the deserving, or for the sake of material gain.” (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 11-12)

R. McL. Wilson writes

“We may ask in what sense the sayings of Jesus in this collection are to be regarded as ‘secret’ (for it is obvious that apokryphos does not have the later pejorative meaning of ‘apocryphal’ here), when many of the sayings contain words which Jesus pronounced openly and publicly. The ‘hidden’ character is rather to be found in the manner of interpretation which is found in this collection.

The quotation from Hippolytus [Elenchus 7, 20] above tells us of ‘hidden words’ that Matthias had learned from the Saviour in private. This reveals a tradition which undoubtedly is to be traced to Mt 13:10-11, where Christ himself distinguished between the comprehension of the disciples and that of the crowd.

The thirteenth Coptic saying illustrates this idea, moreover, when Jesus takes Thomas aside to tell him three words which he is not allowed to repeat to the other disciples. In this very saying we learn that eternal life is promised to him who succeeds in discovering the real meaning of the sayings in the collection. This probably refers to the different application or interpretation which is given to even the canonical sayings that are set in a different context. Such shifts in meaning were undoubtedly part of the esoteric interpretation which is intended by ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’.” (Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, p. 368)

Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes


1 4CM Translator ID: T87
2 4CM Translator ID: T68
3, 5 4CM Translator ID: T81
4 4CM Translator ID: T71
6 4CM Translator ID: T34

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