Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 037 The disciples must strip off their garments
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 37
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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(37) His disciples said: On what day will you be revealed to us, and on what day shall we see you? Jesus said: When you unclothe yourselves and are not ashamed, and take your garments and lay them beneath your feet like the little children (and) trample on them, then [you will see] the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.
(37) His disciples said, “When will you be shown forth to us and when shall we behold you?” Jesus said, “When you strip naked without being ashamed, and take your garments and put them under your feet like little children and tread upon them, then [you] will see the child of the living. And you will not be afraid.”
42 . His disciples say to him: “On what day wilt thou appear to us, and what day shall we see thee?” Jesus says: “When you strip yourselves without being ashamed, when you take off your clothes and lay them at your feet like little children and trample on them! Then [you will become] children of Him who is living, and you will have no more fear.”
(37) His disciples said to him, “When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?” He said, “When you disrobe and are not ashamed […afraid].”
Marvin Meyer writes: “Compare Gospel of the Egyptians 5 (cited at saying 22); Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 5.8.44 (cited at saying 21); Gospel of Thomas 21; especially Manichaean Psalm Book 99,26-30; ‘The saying (or, word) of Jesus the redeemer came to [me (?), as] is appropriate: “The vain garment of this flesh I have stripped off, and I am saved and purified; I have caused the clean feet of my soul to trample upon it confidently; with the gods that are clothed with Christ have I stood in line.”‘
This list text, like saying 37, combines references to stripping and to trampling. In his article ‘The Garments of Shame,’ Jonathan Z. Smith argues that such stripping and trampling reflect early Christian baptismal practice.”
Gospel of Philip 75:21-25 states: “The living water is a body. It is fitting that we put on the living person. For this reason, when one is about to go down to the water, one strips so that one may put on that one (that is, the living person).”
Cyril of Jerusalem in Mystagogical Catechesis 2.2 states: “So then, once you entered, you took off your garment, and this was an image of taking off the old person with its deeds. Having taken this off, you were naked. . . . How marvellous! You were naked in the sight of all and were not ashamed. For truly you were bearing a copy of the first-formed Adam, who in paradise was naked and not ashamed.”
Augustine in Sermon 216.10-11 states on prebaptismal instruction: “In such great masses of troubles, then, clothe yourselves with goatskin and humble your souls through fasting. What is denied to pride is restored to humility. Indeed, when you were examined and the one who instigates flight and desertion was duly rebuked by the omnipotence of the awesome trinity, you were not clothed with goatskin, yet your feet stood mystically upon it. Vices and skins of she-goats are to be trampled under foot; cloth from perverse kids is to be torn apart.”
Marvin Meyer writes: “As is hinted at by Cyril of Jerusalem, the ultimate source of these motifs of stripping and trampling may be the book of Genesis (2:25; 3:14-15). In their article ‘Stripped before God,’ April D. De Conick and Jarl Fossum concur that these motifs derive from the Genesis story, but they challenge Smith’s suggestion that saying 37 provides an interpretation of early Christian baptism.
Instead, they note that stripping commonly refers to the removal of the fleshly body (compare saying 21), and trampling clothes ina childlike way may be understood as the renunciation of the flesh, so that the one who strips off and tramples upon clothes behaves like a child and achieves a childlike purity and innocence.
De Conick and Fossum observe that in two Nag Hammadi documents, On the Anointing and Reality of the Rulers (‘Hypostasis of the Archons’), such trampling is said to aid in overcoming the world and the powers of the world, and in these two texts trampling is discussed in the context of anointing. Thus, they conclude, saying 37 describes the means employed (perhaps including anointing) for embracing purity and attaining a vision of the divine.”
Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes: “This question recalls that put in the mouth of ‘Judas, not the Iscariot’ (most likely Judas Thomas, the alleged compiler of this Gospel), by the writer of the fourth canonical Gospel, ‘Master, how does it happen that you are going to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ (Jn 14:22).”
F. F Bruce writes: “The disciples’ question is reminiscent of the questions of Matthew 24.3 (cf. Mark 13.4; Luke 21.7) and Luke 17.20; but the answer is quite different from anything found in the canonical Gospels. As the primal sin in Eden was followed by a sense of shame at the awareness of being naked, so (it is implied) the restoration of primal innocence will be marked by the removal of such a sense of shame. For the reference to small children cf. Saying 22; for ‘sons of the Living One’ cf. Saying 3.”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Whereas in the Church’s gospels such questions are not really answered, Thomas answers them by stating that the kingdom has come; it need only be recognized. Here the disciples are to become ‘naked’ (Saying 21) by stripping off the body; they are to become ‘like little children.’ Such stripping is mentioned by the Naassenes (Hippolytus, Ref., 5, 8, 44); while treading on the garment of shame was found in the Gospel of the Egyptians (Clement, Strom., 3, 92, 2). The disciples will be ‘sons of the Living Father’ (see Saying 2).”
Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes: “In this saying, at least as it is preserved for us in the Coptic version, we find the characteristic Gnostic ideas about sexual asceticism that were current in the second and third centuries A.D. These ideas force us to classify this saying in the category of J. Jeremias’ ‘tendentious inventions’.”
Funk and Hoover write: “The removal of one’s clothes can be understood in different ways, as we noted in the comments on Thom 21:4. It may be interpreted as an allusion to Christian baptism, where the naked candidate is reborn; it may be understood as a return to the heavenly state in which humans have shed their bodies; or it may denote the primordial state of androgyny in which the sexes are not differentiated.
It is striking that in 37:3 Jesus speaks about himself; this is rare among sayings attributable to Jesus. His response is, of course, correlative with the question posed in the introduction in 37:1, which presupposes an understanding of Jesus as the messenger from heaven – a typical Thomean perspective. These sayings are not correctly attributed to Jesus.”