Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 044 On blasphemy
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 44
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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(44) Jesus said: He who blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and he who blasphemes against the Son will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven.
(44) Jesus said, “Whoever utters blasphemy against the father will be forgiven. And whoever utters blasphemy against the son will be forgiven. But whoever utters blasphemy against the holy spirit will not be forgiven – neither on earth nor in heaven.”
49 . Jesus says: “He who has blasphemed the Father will be forgiven, and he who has blasphemed the Son will be forgiven: but he who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “This is a development of the saying found in Luke 12.10 (cf. also Mark 3.28 f.; Matthew 12.32). Whereas the canonical saying contrasts the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit with the relatively venial sin of blasphemy against the Son of Man, the Gospel of Thomas (surprisingly) adds blasphemy against the Father as relatively venial.
The formulation is trinitarian, as that in the canonical Gospels is not. For the phrase ‘neither on earth nor in heaven’, cf. Matthew 12.32: ‘neither in this age nor in the age to come’. The Gospel of Thomas prefers a form of words which is not eschatological.”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Blasphemy against the Father is presumably included in the ‘every blasphemy’ mentioned in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:28), and these gospels go on to state that blasphemy against the Son of Man is forgivable, while that against the Holy Spirit is not (also Luke 12:10).
Thomas has changed ‘Son of Man’ to ‘Son’ (retained in Saying 86), and has changed Matthew’s eschatological words, ‘in this age or in the one to come,’ to ‘either on earth or in heaven’ (as in the Lord’s Prayer, Matthew 6:10). The sequence Father-Son-Holy Spirit reflects Christian teaching (cf., Matthew 28:19).”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “Grant and Freedman here assume a literalistic interpretation of the synoptic saying, which is to the effect that every blasphemy will be forgiven except that against the Holy Spirit. In this case, as they rightly say, the sequence Father-Son-Holy Spirit reflects Christian teaching. It may be, however, that there is more to be said on this subject, that the Gnostics in fact reversed the order of the sequence. In some systems at least ‘Father’ is a title of the Demiurge, while in the Apocryphon of John the supreme God is described as the Holy Spirit.
Moreover, one of the Nag Hammadi texts bears the title ‘The Sacred Book of the Great Invisible Spirit,’ which seems to point in the same direction. If this be correct, the meaning would be that every blasphemy will be forgiven save that against the supreme God, which is at least consistent—despite the initial shock to orthodox Christian readers.
Elsewhere, it is true, we seem to have a triad of Father, Mother and Son, in which the Holy Spirit is the Mother, but it may be that we have here two different theories emanating form different systems of thought. In any case some Gnostics were not slow to adopt any views which might serve their purpose, without regard for absolute consistency.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “These verses have a tripartite symmetrical structure. The logion has parallels in Mark 3.28-29 and Matt. 13.32/Luke 12.10 (= Q). Only v. 1, the blasphemy against the Father, is not contained in any of the parallels mentioned. It may well have been added for reasons of symmetry and because of the doctrine of the Trinity which was developing in orthodoxy.
Thomas can keep the focus on the impossibility of forgiving blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because for him this is the spark of light which guarantees the redemption of the Gnostic.”
Helmut Koester writes: “Luke 12:10 is considered to be closest to the original Q version by most scholars; however, ‘Son of man’ as a title of Jesus would have to be assigned to a later stage of Q. But even here it remains extremely awkward. The best solution is to assume that Q, like Mark, was originally speaking about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, uttered by ‘a son of man’ = any human being, and that ‘son of man’ was later misunderstood as a title of Jesus.
In the collection of sayings used by the Gospel of Thomas this saying probably was formulated like Mark 3.28-29; the elaboration in Gos. Thom. 44 is then best explained as an independent development. The final phrase which Gos. Thom. 44 and Matt 12:32 share may have been an original part of Q.”
Funk and Hoover write: “According to Thomas, blasphemies against the Father and against the son will be forgiven; only blasphemies against the holy spirit will not be forgiven. Thomas agrees with the other versions regarding blasphemies against the holy spirit, and Thomas supports the Q version in making blasphemies against the son (of Adam) forgivable. Unique to Thomas is the assertion that blasphemies against the Father are forgivable.
This runs counter to the Israelite and Judean respect for God and the divine name. Note especially the provisions of the Community Order (cols. 6-7) found among the Dead Sea Scrolls . . . The Thomas version mentions Father, son, and holy spirit, which appears to reflect the trinitarian formula of emerging orthodox Christianity.”