Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 030 Jesus dwells where there are two or more
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 30
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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(30 + 77b) [Jesus said], “Where there are [three], they are without God, and where there is but [a single one], I say that I am with [him]. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there. Split the piece of wood, and I am there.”
J. D. Crossan writes: “Put mildly, that is not very clear, and we are cast back on the Greek of Oxy P 1, lines 23-27. Harold W. Attridge’s recent study of that papyrus under ultraviolet light led him to the following restored translation: ‘Jesus said, “Where there are three, they are without god, and where there is but a single one I say that I am with him.”‘
He concludes that, ‘instead of an absolutely cryptic remark about gods being gods, the fragment asserts that any group of people lacks divine presence. That presence is available only to the “solitary one.” The importance of the solitary (monachos) is obvious in the Gospel. Cf. Sayings 11, 16, 22, 23, 49, 75, and 106. This saying must now be read in connection with those remarks on the “monachose.”‘ (156).”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “This saying is found in different versions, Greek and Coptic. The Greek speaks of some number of persons – more than one – who are not without God (if the fragmentary text has been correctly restored; perhaps it should read, ‘Wherever there are two, they are without God’), and goes on to say, ‘And where there is one alone, I say, I am with him.’ Then it adds the last sectino of Saying 77 (Coptic).
The Coptic, on the other hand, says that three gods are gods, and that where there are two or one, Jesus is with him. The second half of the saying is fairly easy to explain. It looks like a Gnostic version of ‘Where there are two or three gathered in my name, there am I in their midst’ (Matthew 18:20); as a Gnostic, Thomas reduces the numbers.
Which version is really the original can hardly be determined; the medieval Cathari seem to have quoted a combination of both versions. ‘Where there was one of his little ones, he would be with him; and where there were two, similarly; and where there were three, in the same way’ (v. Dollinger, Beitrage zur Sektengeschichte des Mittelalters, II, page 210). The remark about the gods may possibly involve a criticism of Christian doctrine as tritheism; according to the Coptic text, Christians may be worshipping three (mere) gods (for ‘God’ as possibly inferior to Jesus, see Saying 97).”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “The Greek is fragmentary, but Blass emended it to read ‘Where there are two, they are not without God,’ a restoration which Evelyn White calls ‘certainly final.’ It may be that the Coptic proves Blass wrong, but as Fitzmyer observes it is this saying more than any other which shows that the Coptic is not a direct translation from the Greek, for in Thomas the second part occurs in a completely different saying (logion 77).
It is possible that the Greek and the Coptic represent independent versions, but we must also reckon with the possibility suggested by Grant and Freedman, that the differences are due to a Gnostic editor. If Guillaumont is right, however, the latter view would appear to be ruled out. In the Pirke Aboth (3.7, a passage already quoted, as White notes, by Taylor in connection with the Greek), Rabbi Halafta cites Psalm 83. 1 as proof that the Shekinah is present wherever three study the Torah. The psalm speaks of God judging among the elohim, but this last word was interpreted in terms of Exodus 21: 6, where it must be taken to mean ‘judges’ (LXX paraphrases ‘to the judgment seat of God’). Logion 30 therefore would seem to have some connection with this rabbinic saying, and more particularly to reflect a Jewish background.
The obvious Gospel parallel is Matthew 18: 20, to which White adds Matthew 28:20 and John 16: 32, but these ‘show no more than the elements out of which the saying probably grew.’ White’s further discussion of references in Clement of Alexandria and in Ephraim must now be reconsidered in the light of the Coptic text. It is tempting to conclude that the Greek fragments and the Coptic Thomas are independent translations of an Aramaic text, but this is exposed to the objection that Clement quotes the saying presumably from a Greek document; moreover, Fitzmyer has shown that it is possible to restore the Greek to a comparatively close agreement with the Coptic.”
Funk and Hoover write: “Thom 30:1-2 is the Thomean version of Matt 18:20 (‘Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be there among them’). Here, however, the solitary one merits God’s presence, not the two or three gathered together. This Thomean idea is found also in thom 4:3; 22:5; 23:2 (also compare 16:4; 49:1; 75). In this respect, the Gospel of Thomas is obviously anti-institutional: it rejects the community (the minimum requirement for which was two or three) as the basic unit in favor of the solitary individual.”
Beate Blatz writes: “The second part of this saying is transmitted as logion 77 in the Coptic Gospel of Thomas. This – and also the deviations of the two versions from one another in the first part – proves that the Coptic version cannot be a direct translation of a Greek version such as is handed down in POx 1.”
Marvin Meyer writes: “In the New Testament, compare Matthew 18:19-20. In other early Christian literature, compare Ephraem Syrus, Exposition on the Harmony of the Gospel 14: ‘Where there is one, there also am I, or someone might be sad from lonely things, since he himself is our joy and he himself is with us. And where there are two, there also shall I be, since his mercy and grace overshadow us.
And when we are three, we assemble just as in church, which is the body of Christ perfected and his image expressed.’ In a medieval inquisition record that recounts the confession of Peter Maurinus, it is said that ‘where there was one little one of his, he himself would be with him, and where there were two, similarly, and where there were three, in the same way.'”