Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 016 Jesus has come to impose divisions
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 16
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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(16) Jesus said: Perhaps men think that I am come to cast peace upon the world; and they do not know that I am come to cast dissensions upon the earth, fire, sword, war. For there will be five who are in a house; three shall be against two and two against three, the father against the son and the son against the father, and they shall stand as solitaries.
(16) Jesus said, “People probably think that it is peace that I have come to impose upon the world. And they do not recognize that it is divisions that I have come to impose upon the earth – fire, sword, battle. Indeed, there will be five in a house. There will be three over two and two over three, parent over child and child over parent. And they will stand at rest by being solitaries.”
17 . Jesus says: “Men indeed think I have come to bring peace to the world. But they do not know that I have come to bring the world discord, fire, sword, war. Indeed, if there are five <people> in a house, they will become three against two and two against three – father against son and son against father – and they will be lifted up, being solitaries.”
• GThom 10
• Mic 7:5-6 KJV
• Luke 12:49-53 KJV
• Matt 10:34-39 KJV
• Mark 13:12 KJV
Marvin Meyer writes: “The theme of standing, or stability, is found in Gospel of Thomas sayings 16, 18, 23, 28, and 50. According to accounts concerning the famous Gnostic teacher Simon the Magician, he referred to himself as the standing one. The Nag Hammadi tractate entitled Three Steles of Seth applies this epithet to the divine, and adds that God ‘was first to stand’ (119,17-18).”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “This saying is surprising when compared with the others which speak of peace and unity, for here Jesus plainly speaks of himself as a ‘divider.’ The two ideas can be reconciled, however, for peace and unity are characteristic of believers, Gnostic or Christian, while the division is that which comes into existence between them and outsiders.
The saying is based on Luke 12:51-53 (Matthew 10:34); Luke 12:49 has already been paraphrased in Saying 9. ‘Perhaps men think’ is derived from Luke’s question, ‘Do you suppose . . . ?’ ‘I came to cast peace’ comes from Matthew, while ‘I came to case division’ is composed by the author of Thomas as a parallel to the preceding line, and to Luke 12:49, from which he derives the mention of ‘fire’ (‘sword’ comes from Matthew).
The next sentence is an almost exact quotation of Luke 12:52-53, though references to divisions among women are omitted because ‘women are not worthy of life’ (Saying 112). Those who ‘stand’ (and will not taste death, cf., Saying 18 and Commentary) are those who have broken their ties with earthly families and are ‘single ones’ (cf., Sayings 50 and 75). They must hate father, mother, brothers, and sisters (Sayings 56 and 98).”
Helmut Koester writes: “Thomas’s version of these sayings [10 and 16] lacks Luke 12:50, certainly an addition by the author of the Gospel. Also missing in the Gospel of Thomas is the pedantic, and certainly secondary, enlargement of the family relationships at the end of Luke 12:53. Instead of Luke’s “division” (vs. 51), Gos. Thom. has ‘fire, sword, and war,’ probably an expansion of the original reading of Q, ‘sword,’ which is preserved in Matt 10:14.”
Funk and Hoover write: “The saying has been varied in the three sources: Luke appears to be the middle term between Matthew and Thomas. All three versions are ‘I have come’ sayings, which, in the judgment of most Fellows, is a Christian formulation: Jesus is represented as sent from God to fulfill a specific mission (‘I have come to . . .’).
The Fellows doubt that Jesus spoke of himself in this way, because they doubt that he thought of himself as having been assigned a messianic role. Further, part of this passage is based on Mic 7:5-6. Thomas has considerably revised this group of sayings from its Q form, which the Fellows took to be the more original. It is the form, not the content, of this complex that Fellows could not attribute to Jesus.”