Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 047 Opposites cannot coexist

Early Christian Writings Commentary

Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 47

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

(47) Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or stretch two bows; and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters, unless he honours the one and insults the other. No one drinks old wine and immediately desires to drink new wine. And new wine is not poured into old wineskins, lest they burst; nor is old wine poured into a new wineskin, lest it spoil. An old patch is not sewn on a new garment, for a rent would result.

LAYTON[2]4CM Translator ID: T68

(47) Jesus said, “A person cannot (at the same time) mount two horses or draw two bows. And a slave cannot serve two masters, but truly will honor the one and scoff at the other. No person drinks vintage wine and immediately desires to drink new wine. And new wine is not put into old wineskins lest they burst. And vintage wine is not put into new wineskins lest it go bad. And old patches are not sewed to new garments, for a rip will develop.”

DORESSE[3]4CM Translator ID: T81

52 [47]. Jesus says: “It is not possible for a man to ride two horses, nor to draw two bows. And it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters: otherwise he will honour the one and the other will treat him harshly! Never does a man drink old wine and desire at the same instant to drink new wine; new wine is not poured into old wine-skins, in case they should burst, and old wine is not poured into new wine-skins, in case it should be spoiled. An old piece of cloth is not sown onto a new garment, for a tear would result.”

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

• Luke 16:10-13 KJV
• Luke 5:33-39 KJV
• Matt 6:24 KJV
• Matt 9:14-17 KJV
• Mark 2:18-22 KJV
2 Clem 6:1-6

Scholarly Quotes

F. F. Bruce writes: “The canonical saying about the impossibility of serving two masters (Matthew 6.24; Luke 16.13) is here amplified by two illustrations from life, and followed by sayings contrasting the old order and the new, sufficiently similar to Luke 5.36-39 (cf. Mark 2.21 f.; Matthew 9.16 f.), but with secondary deviations. The canonical counterparts do not speak of pouring old wine into new wine skins, or of patching a new garment with an old piece of cloth. These deviations are probably deliberate: the true Gnostic will not allow his new doctrine to be encumbered with relics from the past.” 

Jesus and Christian Origens Outside the New Testament, p. 132

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “An old patch is not put on a new garment; here Thomas changes the thought from that of the new patch and the old garment (Luke 5:36; Matthew 9:16; Mark 2:21), presumably because he is thinking of life in the new world (Saying 52).” 

The Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 159

Gerd Ludemann writes: “As v. 3 certainly came about from the use of Luke [5.39], the same conclusion follows for vv. 4-5. Thomas has reversed the order of Luke, which he has in front of him, as he had placed v. 3 with the key word ‘wine’ after vv. 1-2, and now Luke 5.37 automatically presented itself as the next sentence with the same key word.” 

Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 613-614

R. McL. Wilson writes: “Quispel argues that the first part of this saying is not dependent on Q, but offers an independent translation from Aramaic. Bartsch, however, points out that the Coptic preserves a hint, obscured in the English translation, that the statement about the servant originally contained two members; either he will honour the one . . . (cf. Luke xvi. 13).

Moreover, the words ‘honour’ and ‘offend,’ which Quispel takes as ‘elegant translations’ of the Aramaic underlying Matthew and Luke, could be regarded as summaries of the two words used in each case by the Synoptists. The claim that here we may have independent tradition is therefore in this case open to question.” 

Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, p. 78

Comparing Thomas to Matthew and Luke, Koester finds that the Thomas form is more original: “Most scholars would argue that ‘servant’ in Luke 16:13 is a later addition, while Matthew’s ‘no one’ is an accurate reproduction of the text of Q. However, the version of Gos. Thom. 47a-b stays completely within the limits of natural expansion of a popular proverb by prefixing the analogous examples of mounting two horses or stretching two bows.

Thomas’s version, at the same time, shows no sign of the unnecessary duplication ‘hate the one and love the other’ and of the secondary application of the proverb (serving God and mammon). Both of these appear already in Q; thus Gos. Thom. 47b presents the form that this proverb would have had before it was incorporated into Q. Had Thomas read the final phrase in his text, he would certainly have incorporated it (cf. the rejection of worldly possessions in Gos. Thom. 110).” 

Ancient Christian Gospels, p. 90

Funk and Hoover write: “The order of sayings about patch and garment and wine wine-skins is reversed in Thomas from the way they appear in the synoptic gospels. According to the saying in Thom 47:3-4, one does not pour young wine into old wine-skins, since the old skins might burst, and one does not trust mature wine to young wine-skins, since new skins tend to make the wine spoil.

The synoptic version has undergone a Christian transformation, because the new has now been equated with the new Jesus movement. The version found in Mark 2:22 exhibits that transformation: ‘And nobody pours young wine into old wine-skins, otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and destroy both the wine and the skins. Instead, young wine is for new wine-skins.’

Concern for mature wine, such as we find in Luke 5:39 (‘nobody wants young wine after drinking aged wine’), has disappeared; attention is riveted on the fate of the new. The old wine-skins represent the Judean religion, new wine the spirit-filled headiness of the Christian movement. The Thomas version was given the highest weighted average because there is no hint of a Christian revision of the saying.” 

The Five Gospels, pp. 499-500

J. D. Crossan writes of 47b: “From the combination of Mark and Thomas there arises the strong possibility that this double aphorism was originally a double-diptych or quadruple-stich aphorism with each diptych in reversed parallelism (abb’a’). This must be considered not only for Gos. Thom.47b(2) on wine (Turner and Montefiore: 65; and see especially Nagel), but for both Gos. Thom. 47b(2 and 3) on wine and on cloth (Quispel, 1957:194-195). Thus the double diptych involved

(a) a combination of two metaphors: cloth-patching and wine-storing;
(b) with a different set of categories for each;
(c) in chiastic arrangement: unshrunk/shrunk//shrunk/unschrunk and new/old//old/new. Two processes worked upon the original structure:
(d) an internal process whereby the new/old categories eventually prevailed over the unshrunk/shrunk, and
(e) an external process that found it appropriate to retain the new/old aspect but not the old/new side of each diptych. Finally,
(f) the internal process has changed Thomas even more than Mark (where ‘unshrunk’ is still present), but the external process, with its concern for Jesus as the new, has changed Mark and Luke much more than Thomas(where ‘old/new’ is twice present).

The only vestiges of old/new still visible in Mark or Luke is its residue within that concluding and unnecessary comment about ‘new win/new wine-skins.’ But here, of course, old/new has become new/new.” 

In Fragments, pp. 125-126


1 4CM Translator ID: T87
2 4CM Translator ID: T68
3 4CM Translator ID: T81
4 4CM Translator ID: T71

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