Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 042 We should be passersby

Early Christian Writings Commentary

Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 42

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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FromEarly Christian Writings 

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Horst Balz. (T87)
Bentley Layton. (T68)
Harold W Attridge. (T34)
Jean Doresse. (T81)
Robert Funk. (T71)

Our Ref:
ECST: 014.10.000.T34
ECST: 014.10.000.T68
ECST: 014.10.000.T71
ECST: 014.10.000.T81
ECST: 014.10.000.T87

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text

Gospel of Thomas Coptic Text

BLATZ[1]4CM Translator ID: T87

(42) Jesus said: Become passers-by!

LAYTON[2]4CM Translator ID: T68

(42) Jesus said, “Be passersby.”

DORESSE[3]4CM Translator ID: T81

47 [42]. Jesus says: “You must be <as> passers-by!”

Funk’s Parallels[4]4CM Translator ID: T71

2 Cor 4:16
Acts of John 76
Petrus Alphonsi[5]PDF Copy Disciplina clericalis of Petrus Alphonsi Page 61

Scholarly Quotes

Marvin Meyer writes: “This saying may also be translated ‘Be wanderers’; compare descriptions in early Christian literature of wandering teachers and missionaries. Another possible but less likely translation is, ‘Come into being as you pass away’; compare the use of the same word parage as ‘pass away’ in the first riddle in saying 11, and other statements similar to this translation of saying 42 (for example, 2 Corinthians 4:16; Acts of John 76: ‘Die so that you may live’). Tjitze Baarda, ‘Jesus Said: Be Passers-By,’ suggests yet another possible translation, ‘Be Hebrews,’ with the understanding of Philo of Alexandria that the word ‘Hebrews’ may be taken as ‘migrants.’

A medieval author, Petrus Alphonsi, preserves a saying much like saying 42 in his Clerical Instruction: ‘This world is, as it were, a bridge. Therefore, pass over it, only do not lodge there.’ A very similar saying attributed to Jesus is preserved in the form of an Arabic inscription at the site of a mosque at Fatehpur-Sikri, India.”

The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 87

William R. Schoedel translates, “Jesus said: Come into being as you pass away.” Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Presumably the saying has much the same meaning as Paul’s words (2 Corinthians 4:16): ‘If our outer man is perishing, our inner man is renewed day by day.'” 

The Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 155

Bentley Layton writes: “participle of the Greek verb paragein, ‘to go past (something or someone).’ Epitaphs on Greek tombstones of the period often salute the ‘stranger’ or ‘passerby’ (usually called ksenos or parodites), as though in the words of the corpse buried in the tomb. Cf. no. 56. The saying may also be a recommendation of the life of a wandering ascetic, like St. Thomas in The Acts of Thomas.” 

The Gnostic Scriptures, p. 387

M. A. Williams writes: “Saying 42 of Gos. Thom. offers the laconic admonition ‘Become passersby,’ which might be read as advocating the lifestyle of the solitary, itinerant ascetic, and this may favor the conclusion that we should hear the connotation of solitary asceticism in at least the Greek term monachos in this gospel.” 

Helmut Koester writes: “There are many sayings in Thomas (a number of these shared with the canonical Gospels) which specify the kind of behavior and mode of living in the world that is appropriate to those who are truly ‘children of the Father.’ At the heart of this life style is a social radicalism that rejects commonly held values. The sayings speak of rejecting the ideal of a settled life in house and home, and they require itineracy: [42].”

Ancient Christian Gospels, p. 127

F. F. Bruce writes: “In other words, do not settle down here. These words are later ascribed to Jesus in some strands of Muslim tradition (although in other strands they are ascribed to Muhammad or to one of his companions). The most famous instance of their ascription to Jesus in Muslim tradition is on the main gateway of the mosque erected in 1601 at Fathpur-Sikri, south of Delhi, by the Moghul Akbar the Great; it bears the inscription: ‘Jesus, on whom be peace, said: “This world is a bridge. Pass over it; but do not build your dwelling there.”‘” 

Jesus and Christian Origens Outside the New Testament, p. 130

R. McL. Wilson writes: “In favour of its primitive character Jeremias quotes a saying from the Mishnah, while Bauer adduces a parallel in the Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi in the twelfth century. Bauer also refers to 1 John ii. 17 and I Corinthians vii. 31 for the idea of the transitory character of this world and its desires; it may be appropriate to recall those passages in the New Testament which speak of Christians as strangers and sojourners, whose citizenship is in heaven (e.g. I Peter i. 1, ii. 11, Phil. iii. 20).”

Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, p. 104

J. D. Crossan writes: “As with the saying in Gos. Thom. 42, ‘Become passers-by,’ so also does this saying [86] bespeak a homelessness for humanity within this world.”

In Fragments, p. 241

Funk and Hoover write: “This saying is short, pithy, aphoristic in tone, and open to plural interpretations. It coheres with other sayings attributed to Jesus in which he advocates a mendicant or counter cultural lifestyle: ‘Be passersby’ suggests to some a life spent consorting with toll collectors and sinners, in eating and drinking, in homeless itinerancy. These aspects prompted half of the Fellows to vote red or pink.” 

The Five Gospels, p. 496

Funk and Hoover write: “The saying occurs only in Thomas. It can therefore also be understood as a creation of Thomas in which this evangelist counsels detachment from the world, one of his favorite themes (21:6; 27:1; 56:1-2; 80:1-2; 110; 111:3). On this understanding, it does not merely reflect a certain lifestyle, it dictates one.

The other half of the Fellows were therefore inclined to the view that this saying represents an attempt on the part of the community to define its patterns of social behavior, as a way of distinguishing itself from the rest of the world. The Fellows who took this view voted Gray or black.” 

The Five Gospels, p. 496


1 4CM Translator ID: T87
2 4CM Translator ID: T68
3 4CM Translator ID: T81
4 4CM Translator ID: T71
5 PDF Copy Disciplina clericalis of Petrus Alphonsi Page 61

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