Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 024 A person of light enlightens the whole world
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 24
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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(24) His disciples said: Teach us about the place where you are, for it is necessary for us to seek it. He said to them: He who has ears, let him hear! There is light within a man of light, and he lights the whole world. If he does not shine, there is darkness.
(24) His disciples said, “Show us the place where you are, for we must seek it.” He said to them, “Whoever has ears should listen! There is light existing within a person of light. And it enlightens the whole world: if it does not enlighten, that person is darkness.”
29 . His disciples say to him: “Instruct us about the place where thou art, for we must know about it!” He says to them: “He who has ears, let him hear! If a light exists inside a luminous one, then it gives light to the whole world; but if it does not give light, <it means that it is> a darkness.”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “The disciples ask to be shown where Jesus is, just as in John 13:36 Simon Peter asks where he is going, in John 14:5 Thomas asks about the way, and in John 14:8 Philip asks to be shown the Father. Jesus replies by urging them to ‘hear’ the hidden meaning of his words. They already possess spiritual illumination within themselves, for they have spiritual ‘eyes’ (Saying 23).
Thomas paraphrases a saying of Jesus about the eye in Matthew 6:22-23; Luke 11:34-36. For the ‘luminous’ body of the gospels he substitutes the Gnostic conception of the ‘luminous-man’ (Pistis Sophia, chapter 125). Their light illuminates the whole world because they are ‘the light of the world’ (Matthew 5.14; another quotation of this verse is in Saying 33).”
Jean Doresse writes: “Or better, ‘the place where thou art’ may be intended to refer to God Himself; in Hebrew God is often referred to by the paraphrase Maqom, which means ‘the Place’. In this case, the disciples will be asking him how close he is to the Godhead, and Jesus replies, alluding to himself, that the light which he sends into the world is the proof that the divine Light is present in him.”
Joachim Jeremias writes: “Concerning the idea of the ‘inner light’ which shines from within a man, cf. Gospel of Thomas 24: ‘Within a man of light there is light and it [or: he] lights the whole world.’ Incidentally, the same idea is behind the rabbinical rule not to look at the priests while they pronounced the priestly blessing; in doing so they had to hold their hands before their eyes with the fingers spread out like a screen, because, as it was said, the divine glory ‘glanced through the lattice [Cant. 2.9]’.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “The disciples do not need to look outside themselves, but as people of light they have light in themselves just as much as the light figure Jesus (cf. 77.1). Indeed, without this particle of light there would be darkness in the world. This statement seems to contain an indirect command to engage in mission in the world (cf. 33.1-3).”
Funk and Hoover write: “The concept of a person bearing a spark of light that recalls one’s origin and determines one’s nature is a Gnostic commonplace. While reminiscent of other sayings about light, especially in the Gospel of John, it is here clearly a agnostic formulation.”
Stevan Davies writes: “According to saying 24 people may actualize the light within them and thus see the world and themselves in terms of the light of creation. They will see the world in reference to its beginning perfection, stand at the beginning (saying 18), and need no future attainment. They will know themselves to be sons of the living Father (saying 3) — that is, the image of God, no longer male or female and having made the male and female into a single one, they will enter the kingdom of heaven (saying 22).”
Stevan Davies writes: “According to Gos. Thom. 24 one learns that those seeking the place where Jesus is ought not seek Jesus himself, but will find what they seek within themselves, the primordial light which, when actualized, illuminates the world.”
J. D. Crossan writes: “The six uses [of ‘let him hear’] in Thomas have the double ‘hear’ in Gos. Thom. 8, 21 (as in Mark and Luke), but the single ‘hear’ in 24, 63, 65, 96 (as in Matthew). It is used mostly to conclude parables (8, 21, 63, 65, 96), but once to introduce an aphorism (24). Since Coptic has no participle, the opening is the equivalent of the Greek relatival format.”