Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 022 Those who enter the kingdom resemble little ones
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 22
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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(22) Jesus saw some infants who were being suckled. He said to his disciples: These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom. They said to him: If we then become children, shall we enter the kingdom? Jesus said to them: When you make the two one, and when you make the inside as the outside, and the outside as the inside, and the upper as the lower, and when you make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male is not male and the female not female, and when you make eyes in place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then shall you enter [the kingdom].
(22) Jesus saw some little ones nursing. He said to his disciples, “These little ones who are nursing resemble is those who enter the kingdom.” They said to him, “So shall we enter the kingdom by being little ones?” Jesus said to them, “When you (plur.) make the two one and make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below, and that you might make the male and the female be one and the same, so that the male might not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye and a hand in place of a hand and a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image – then you will enter [the kingdom].”
27 . Jesus saw some children who were taking the breast: he said to his disciples: “These little ones who suck are like those who enter the Kingdom.” They said to him: “If we are little, shall we enter the Kingdom?” Jesus says to them: “When you make the two <become> one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the upper like the lower! And if you make the male and female one, so that the male is no longer male and the female no longer female, and when you put eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, and a foot in the place of a foot, and an image in the place of an image, then you will enter [the Kingdom!”]
• Matt 18:1-4 KJV
• Matt 19:13-15 KJV
• John 3:1-10 KJV
• Mark 9:33-37 KJV
• Mark 10:13-16 KJV
• DialSav 7 (Dialogus Saluatoris)
• GEgyp 6 (Gospel of the Egyptians)
• Gal 3:28-29 KJV
Clement of Alexandria states in Stromata iii.13.92-93 (J.E.L. Oulton’s translation): “On this account he [Julius Casinos] says: ‘When Salome asked when she would know the answer to her questions, the Lord said, When you trample on the robe of shame, and when the two shall be one, and the male with the female, and there is neither male nor female.’ In the first place we have not got the saying in the four Gospels that have been handed down to us, but in the Gospel according to the Egyptians.”
Second Clement 12:2-6 says (Lightfoot’s translation): “For the Lord Himself, being asked by a certain person when his kingdom would come, said, When the two shall be one, and the outside as the inside, and the male with the female, neither male or female. Now the two are one, when we speak truth among ourselves, and in two bodies there shall be one soul without dissimulation. And by the outside as the inside He meaneth this: by the inside he meaneth the soul and by the outside the body. Therefore in like manner as they body appeareth, so also let thy soul be manifest by its good works. And by the male with the female, neither male nor female, he meaneth this; that a brother seeing a sister should have no thought of her as a female, and that a sister seeing a brother should not have any thought of him as a male. These things if ye do, saith He, the kingdom of my father shall come.”
Martyrdom of Peter 9 says: “Concerning this the master says in a mystery, ‘If you do not make what is on the right like what is on the left and what is on the left like what is on the right, and what is above like what is below, and what is behind like what is before, you will not recognize the kingdom.'”
Marvin Meyer writes: “In this last passage Peter, who is crucified upside-down, compares his position with that of the first human being. Philip makes a similar comparison in Acts of Philip 140, where he also cites a variant of this saying. For a New Testament statement bearing some resemblance to this saying, see Galatians 3:27-28. On the two becoming one, see saying 4 and the note on becoming one.”
Marvin Meyer quotes an account of creation in the Letter of Peter to Philip 136:5-11 that says: “So he, the arrogant one, became haughty because of the praise of the powers. He became a rival, and he wanted [to] make an image in place [of an image] and a form in place of a form.”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Infants (as in Sayings 3, 21, and 38) may be compared with those who enter into the kingdom (cf., John 3, 3.5). But entering the kingdom means more than becoming childlike. The two must become one; all earthly differences must be obliterated, including – especially – those of sex.
Sayings very much like this one are preserved in the Gospel of the Egyptians, in 2 Clement 12:2, and in the Martyrdom of Peter (see pages 78-79). The unity of Christian believers in the body of Christ is, of course, based on the New Testament. Doresse (pages 155-56) cites John 17:11, 20-23; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 2:14-18; and he points out that in Ephesians 5:32 the unity of Adam and Eve (i.e., of human marriage) is referred to ‘Christ and the Church.’
It is perhaps more important to notice that in Galatians 3:28 Paul says that ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free men, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ This kind of unity looks back to the first creation story in Genesis, where ‘man’ is male and female; it is the second creation story that sharply differentiates Eve from Adam. The original state of creation is to be reached through spiritual union. Man is not to be man; woman is not to be woman (though according to Saying 112 she is to become man – i.e., fully human in a spiritual sense).”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “The idea that only the childlike can enter the Kingdom of God is, of course, familiar from the canonical Gospels. It may be added that this saying is one of the few which have anything in the nature of a narrative setting, although whether the words which introduce the saying derive from genuine tradition or were constructed for the purpose is matter for debate.
Certainly all that follows the disciples’ question is far removed from the canonical portrait of Jesus. Yet even here there is a basis in the New Testament: as Grant and Freedman note, listing passages cited by Doresse, the unity of believers in the body of Christ is based on New Testament teaching.
They also quote Paul’s words in Galatians iii.8: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Such a passage as this must serve to confirm the view that one element at least in the development of Gnosticism is a re-interpretation of Christian teaching.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “This is an expansion of the canonical saying: ‘whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it’ (Luke 18.17; cf. Matthew 18.3). But the expansion suggests the abolition of sex distinction (cf. Sayings 4, 11, 106): as infants are devoid of sex awareness or shame, so should the disciples be. In the Gospel according to the Egyptians words like these are spoken by Jesus to Salome.
We may recognize a Gnostic interpretation of Paul’s words: ‘there can be no male and female’ (Galatians 3.28). The replacement of physical eyes, hand and foot by corresponding spiritual members is probably a gloss on the saying in Mark 9.43-48 (cf. Matthew 5.29 f.; 18.8 f.), which similarly follows words about children.”
Bruce Chilton writes: “The ascetic emphasis of Christianity in Edessa was a profound influence on Thomas; a central saying (saying 22), for example, stipulates that one must be neither male nor female in order to enter the kingdom. A denial of sexuality is manifest.”
Funk and Hoover write: “The initial saying (v. 2), which is earlier than any of the written gospels, is followed, in Thom 22:4-7, by interpretive rephrasing. One enters life by recovering one’s original self, undivided by the differences between male and female, physical and spiritual. The theme of unifying opposites is well known from later Gnostic texts. This surrounding commentary on v. 2 was designated black as the work of the Thomas community.”
J. D. Crossan writes: “You will recall from earlier that the Gospel of Thomas derided the idea of looking into the future for apocalyptic salvation. Instead, it advocated looking back to the past, not only to an Edenic moment before Adam and Eve sinned but to an even more primordial moment before they were split into two beings.
Its gaze was not on a male but on an androgynous Adam, image of its Creator in being neither female nor male. And it was in baptism, precisely in the primitive form of nude baptism, that the initiant, reversing the saga of Genesis 1-3, took off ‘the garments of shame’ (Smith 1965-66) mandated for a fallen humanity and assumed ‘the image of the androgyne’ (Meeks).
This theology, which is the basic unifying vision of the Gospel of Thomas, can be seen not only in Gospel of Thomas 22:1-4 but also in 21:1-2 and 37:1-2 and in all those sayings, such as 4:2, 11:2, 16, 23, 49, 75, 106, about being or becoming one, a single one, or a solitary (Klijn).”
Stevan Davies writes: “In summary, Thomas presents a dualism of perspectives and urges people to ‘seek and find’ a new view of the world, a view it claims Jesus himself advocated and embodied. Insofar as the world in its perfect condition, the kingdom of heaven, is thought to be above, that conception of the world is to be applied to the world below: ‘make that which is above like that which is below’ (saying 22).
Yet the kingdom is not really a place above (saying 3) but a primordial time, a time that persists in the present. All things, all people came from it, for all were created as specified in Gen 1:1-2:4. All can return there now by actualizing primordial light within themselves and seeing that light spread throughout the world, thus making the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside (saying 22). To return to the kingdom one remains standing on the earth, but with an altered conception of it. The theme of a salvific or restorative return to the time of primordial mythic origins is, of course, a theme commonly encountered in religious throughout the world.”
Stevan Davies writes: “A person who has actualized the primordial light has become (is reborn as) an infant (saying 22) precisely seven days of age (saying 4), for he dwells in the seventh day of Genesis. Reflecting the fact that the kingdom of God, like the light, is within and outside of people, such ‘infants’ have made what is inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and have restored the primordial condition of the image of God; this is the meaning of Gos. Thom. 22.”
J. D. Crossan writes of 22b: “Robinson has shown most persuasively how the original Kingdom and Children aphorism has moved along two hermeneutical trajectories. One is the ‘orthodox’ baptismal interpretation represented by John 3:1-10 and developed in later patristic texts (1962a:106-107). The other is the ‘unorthodox’ and Gnostic interpretation represented here by Gos. Thom. 22b: ‘When one considers that repudiation of sex was a condition to admission to some Gnostic groups, somewhat as baptism was a condition of admission into the church at large, it is not too difficult to see how a logion whose original Sitz im Leben was baptism could be taken over and remoulded in the analogous Sitz im Leben of admission to the sect’ (1962a: 108).
Thus Jesus’ reply in Gos. Thom. 22b involves a fourfold ‘when you make,’ each of which contains the obliteration of bodily differences, and each of which is known by itself or in various combinations from other Gnostic sources (save the fourth).
Thus ‘when you make the two one’ reappears in Gos. Thom. 106 and combined as ‘when the two become one and the male with the female (is) neither male nor female’ in the Gospel of the Egyptians (Hennecke and Schneemelcher: 1.168). These, and Robinson’s more detailed examples (1962a: 108, 281-284), show that the setting and saying in Gos. Thom. 22a have been redaction-ally expanded in typically Gnostic terms by the dialogue of 22b. ‘The result is a logion all but transformed beyond recognition, were it not that the hint provided by the basic structure is confirmed by the introduction, in which it becomes clear that the logion grew out of the saying about the children’ (Robinson, 1962a: 109).”
J. D. Crossan continues: “The only factor not adequately explained in all this is the meaning of the fourth and final ‘when you make’ concerning eye-hand-foot. ‘It is tempting to propose an emendation of the text’ (Kee: 312) so that it would recommend eye to replace eyes, hand hands, and foot feet. But that, as Kee admits, is but a plausible guess, and Robinson can only note Mark 9:43, 45, 47 and add a question mark.
But however one explains that final ‘when you make (fashion),’ it is clear that ‘a collection of various traditions’ (Robinson, 1962a: 283 note 46) has been appended to the Kingdom and Children aphorism. This means that one cannot dismiss the possibility of independent tradition in Gos. Thom. 22a simply because of the Gnostic interpretation(s) now attached to it in 22b (against Kee: 314). Any decision on 22a must be made apart from its present much longer dialogic conclusion in 22b.”
J. D. Crossan writes of the form of 22a: “Here is a classic example of an aphoristic story, that is, of an aphoristic saying developed into narrative. A setting or situation is given with ‘Jesus saw infants being suckled.’ But this situation is already verbally contained within the aphorism itself: ‘He said to His disciples, “These infants are being suckled like those who enter the Kingdom.”‘
On the one hand, this adds little to the aphorism itself, but, on the other, it significantly chooses the narrative mode (situation) over the discourse mode (address) to develop the aphorism. Notice also that the incident begins with Jesus, with something from Jesus rather than something to Jesus. It begins when ‘Jesus saw.’
This recalls Bultmann’s observation that, ‘It is characteristic of the primitive apophthegm that it makes the occasion of a dominical saying something that happens to Jesus (with the exception of the stories of the call of the disciples). It is a sign of a secondary formation if Jesus himself provides the initiative’ (66).”
J. D. Crossan writes: “The aphoristic saying in Mark 10:15; Matt. 18:3; John 3:3, 5 appears as a double negative (‘unless . . . not’), but the dialectical story in Mark 10:14 and the aphoristic story in Gos. Thom. 22a are positive. The shift from saying to story has involved a shift from negative to positive as well.”
J. D. Crossan concludes: “The whole unit of 22 involves three steps. First, the aphoristic saying is developed into an aphoristic story in 22a. Second, this is hermeneutically expanded by means of aphoristic dialogue. A single exchange is created between disciples and Jesus. Their question simply picks up the language of Jesus’ original saying in 22a. T
hree, the reply of Jesus almost overpowers the original saying in length, but it is an aphoristic commentary in form. If one leaves aside 22a and the opening question of 22b, the rest of 22b could be taken as an originally independent saying. It is, however, an aphoristic commentary, that is, a unit that looks like an independent aphorism but is appended as interpretative commentary to a preceding aphorism.”