Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 011 The living will not die
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 11
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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(11) Jesus said: This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away; and those who are dead are not alive, and those who are living will not die. In the days when you ate of what is dead, you made of it what is living. When you come to be light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you have become two, what will you do?
(11) Jesus said, “This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. And the dead (elements) are not alive, and the living (elements) will not die. In the days when you (plur.) used to ingest dead (elements), you made them alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day that you were one, you made two. And when you are two, what will you do?”
11 . Jesus says: “This heaven will pass away, and the hevaen which is above it will pass: but those who are dead will not live, and those who live will not die!” 12 . “Today you eat dead things and make them into something living: <but> when you will be in Light, what will you do then? For then you will become two instead of one; and when you become two, what will you do then?”
Jean Doresse writes: “The first part of this paragraph is quoted and commented on by the Philosophumena (V, 8, 31). According to this work, the Naassenes explained it as follows: ‘If you have eaten dead things and made them living things, what then will you do when you eat living things? These living things are rational beings, intelligences, men – pearls which the great Being without form has cast into the work of here below!'”
Marvin Meyer writes: “The two heavens will pass away. Presumably the third heaven (the realm of God; compare 2 Corinthians 12:2-4) will not. On the heavens passing away, compare Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33; Matthew 5:18 (Q); Luke 16:17 (Q).”
F. F. Bruce writes: “The first part of the saying reminds us of Matthew 24.35 (cf. Matthew 5.18; Luke 16.17): ‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’ – but it is not a close parallel. As for eating dead things, this probably means that when the flesh of dead animals is eaten by human beings it becomes part of a living body (cf. Saying 7). [A similar Naassene saying is quoted by Hippolytus, Refutation v.8.32.] The eating of flesh was probably discouraged, as making it more difficult to attain the light of immortality; the views of a vegetarian Syrian sect called the Encratites may have influenced the tradition in this and some other regards. The words about being one and becoming two refer to the dividing of man into male and female (cf. Saying 4). If sex was to be transcended in the life to come, it was felt best that it should play no part in the present life (this may be a further Encratite trait).”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “The third part of the saying describes the condition of the Gnostic believer. Those who were formerly divided have been united; they have worked together (Saying 59); they are at peace (49); they have become one (103). Unfortunately, it looks as if becoming ‘two’ were regarded as the believer’s goal. Perhaps it would be best to hold that the present unity of the believers represents their goal, and – in spite of the parallelism of the saying – that the becoming ‘two’ is something they should avoid. Jesus is not a divider (Saying 72), except in the sense that he divides families into Gnostics and non-Gnostics (Saying 16).”
Stevan Davies writes: “Those who achieve the excellence Thomas commends are people who live from the living one immortally (sayings 11, 111), while those who do not do so live from the dead and will die (sayings 7, 11, 60, 87).”
Funk and Hoover write: “A number of themes in this complex led the Fellows to conclude that these sayings derive from a form of Christianity exhibiting mild Gnostic tendencies. This appears to be the form of Christianity Thomas espoused. The speculative cosmology in 11:1 has parallels in other gnostic texts. The obscure statements regarding life and death in 11:2-3a seem typical of Thomas (Thom 4:1; 58; 101:3; 7; 60), as does the theme of light (11:3b; compare with 24:3; 50:1; 61:5; 83:1-2). 11:4 may refer to a common Gnostic idea that humanity has fallen from an original, perfect state of undifferentiated unity (22:4-7). All these considerations suggest that the Thomas tradition is the origin of this complex rather than Jesus.”