Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 050 We have come from the light
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 50
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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(50) Jesus said: If they say to you: Whence have you come?, say to them: We have come from the light, the place where the light came into being of itself. It [established itself], and it revealed itself in their image. If they say to you: Who are you?, say: We are his sons, and we are the elect of the living Father. If they ask you: What is the sign of your Father in you?, say to them: It is movement and rest.
(50) Jesus said, “If they say to you (plur.), ‘Where are you from?’ say to them, ‘It is from light that we have come – from the place where light, of its own accord alone, came into existence and [stood at rest]. And it has been shown forth in their image.’ If they say to you, ‘Is it you?’ say ‘We are its offspring, and we are the chosen of the living father.’ If they ask you, ‘What is the sign of your father within you?’ say to them, ‘It is movement and repose.'”
55 . Jesus says: “If people ask you: ‘Where have you come from?’ tell them: ‘We have come from the Light, from the place where the Light is produced [. . .] outside itself <or: of itself?>. It [. . .] until they show (?) [. . .] their image.’ If someone says to you: ‘What are you?’ say: ‘We are the sons and we are the elect of the living Father.’ If <people> ask you: ‘What sign of your Father is in you?’ tell them: ‘It is a movement and a rest.'”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “This saying continues the thought of Saying 50. The disciples are the light of the world (Matthew 7:14) because Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). They are from above, from the place where the light shines in the darkness (John 1:5). They are sons of the light (?), and the elect. If men ask for a sign, as they asked Jesus (Mark 8:11-12; Matthew 16:1-4; Luke 11:16, 29-30), no startling miracle can be shown them, but only ‘a movement and a rest.’ The ‘rest’ must be the rest characteristic of the kingdom (Sayings 1 [Greek], 52, 90); the ‘movement’ is ultimately that of the unmoved mover, according to the Naassenes (Hippolytus, Ref., 5, 7, 25).”
F. F. Bruce writes: “The subject-matter of this saying is much the same as that of Saying 49; for the place of light cf. Sayings 24, 77. The relationship to the living Father has been mentioned in Saying 3 (cf. Saying 37). For the ‘image’ see Saying 83. The ‘movement’ may be the re-ascent to the realm of light; the ‘rest’ is probably that which is the goal of the true Gnostic (Sayings 1 [Greek], 51, 90).”
Stevan Davies writes: “In Gos. Thom. 50 ‘they’ are perhaps people to whom Thomasine Christians may chance to speak, possible converts to a missionary movement. But more likely, since questioning ‘disciples’ are specified in sayings 51, 52, 53, the questioning ‘they’ of saying 50 are probably intended to be leaders who appeal to the tradition of the disciples. That Thomas is engaged in dispute with ‘those who lead you’ is evident from saying 3.”
Stevan Davies writes of 50a: “As all things came from the light (saying 77), so those who came from the light are distinguished not by their manner of origin but by their realization of the fact. the place in which the light came into being is the place of Gen 1:3. Because the light persists in the world as the kingdom of God, there is no idea here of a fall of the light. A person who is the restored unmanifest image of God will manifest to himself the primordial light which is upon the world (sayings 22, 24, 83, 84).”
Stevan Davies writes of 50b: “Light is the creative force in Thomas (Gos. Thom. 77; Gen 1:3). As people are created through the light of the Father, they are children of the light or sons of the living Father (saying 3) or, equivalently, the elect of the living Father. Whereas all people are potentially children of the light, only those aware of this fact are in actuality children, elect, sons, etc.”
Stevan Davies writes of 50c: “The seven days of Genesis begin with the Spirit moving upon the waters, continue through six days of the movement of creation, and conclude with a day of repose. If the state of actualized humanity is that of the beginning–insofar as the beginning is movement and repose–then the sign of the Father in actualized humanity is the same.”
Stevan Davies writes: “The colloquy found in saying 50 between people who know their origins and people who interrogate them, asking ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘Is it you?’ and asking for ‘the sign of your father within you,’ is not unlike colloquies found in the Gospel of John. In John 8:12-59, for example we find such statements as ‘I am the light of the world,’ ‘I know where I came from and where I am going.
But you do not know where I came from or where I am going,’ as well as such questions as ‘they said to him, “Where is your father?”‘; ‘they said to him, “Who are you?”‘; and ‘how can you say, “You will become free?”‘ The rather well-established similarities between Thomas and John should lead one to look to John for clues to the understanding of Thomas’s enigmas.”
Funk and Hoover write: “The miniature catechism of Thomas 49 is continued in this complex of sayings. The antecedent of the pronoun ‘they’ in v. 1 is unspecified, but the pattern of hypothetical questions followed by appropriate responses is often repeated in Gnostic instructional materials, such as many of the tractates found in the Nag Hammadi library.
In these materials, the ‘they’ often refers to the various rulers (or powers) who guard the way heavenward – the way back to the region of light – through which those who are saved must pass. The responses are passwords designed to placate these heavenly guardians. Both the language and the ideas in this miniature catechism are far removed from the language and ideas of Jesus.”
Marvin Meyer writes: “This saying is one of the most overtly mythological sayings in the Gospel of Thomas. Much of what is recounted here is familiar from ancient descriptions of the life of the soul, particularly Gnostic descriptions (for example, the Hymn of the Pearl in Acts of Thomas 108-13). Many of the specific features of this saying resemble the myth that is presented in more detail in the Secret Book of John.
The question asked and the answers given in the saying also recall accounts of the heavenly powers interrogating the soul as it passes through the spheres of heaven. According to Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.21.5, the soul is to respond, ‘I am a child of the father, the father who is preexistent, a child, moreover, is the one who is preexistent. . . . I trace my origin from the one who is preexistent and back to what is my own, from where I have come.’ Then, Irenaeus observes, it is thought that the soul can escape from the powers.”
John S. Kloppenborg, Marvin W. Meyer, Stephen J. Patterson, and Michael G. Steinhauser state: “In this sequence of sayings the Gospel of Thomas has moved beyond the realm of conventional wisdom and into a perspective more akin to Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that they were ultimately not of the present, evil world at all, but rather were descended from the one high God who lives aloft in heavenly remove from the cosmos.
Their presence in the world is due to a great tragic mistake whereby the demiurge, a rebellious angel, sought to create something of its own volition apart from God. The result was the creation of the earth, and at the same time a rupture in the primeval perfection of the divine realm. In this rupture, parts of the divine realm became trapped in the evil creation of the demiurge, spirits (PNEUMATA) embodied in persons, who someday must win their release from the evil world, and return to the divine realm from whence they have come. This, or a similar mythological framework, is presupposed in Sayings 49-50. The Thomas Christian is told of his/her origin and ultimate destiny, and finally, is given the secret passwords to be used in the re-ascent past the many heavenly guardians who would block their path.”
Helmut Koester writes: “The religious perspective represented in such Thomas sayings as these [49 and 50] has often been associated with Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that both their origin and their destiny lay in the supreme deity who dwells in a heavenly place removed from the evil world, the creation of a rebellious angel or demiurge. Though this demiurge seeks to hold humans in ignorance of their true identity, in sleepiness and intoxication, a divine messenger will come and awake them and relieve them from the bonds of ignorance by bringing true knowledge about themselves.
In saying #28 of the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus speaks with the voice of this heavenly messenger . . . However, this moment of return to which the Thomas Christians aspire requires preparation beyond the simple memorization of passwords, about which Gos. Thom. 50 speaks. One must also cultivate the proper understanding of the world in order to be ready to leave its confines when the time comes: [56 and 80].”
Stevan Davies writes: “Koester and Patterson’s often-published perspective on sayings 49 and 50 is plain wrong. They believe that one may justly infer that these sayings especially, but others as well, derive from the thought world of those Gnostics who ‘believed that both their origin and their destiny lay in the supreme deity who dwells in a heavenly place removed from the evil world, the creation of a rebellious angel or demiurge…’ and that saying 50 speaks of ‘the simple memorization of passwords’ to be delivered to archons so as to enable Thomasine Christians to ascend from the confines of this world when the time comes . . . These ideas apply to the Apocryphon of John but not to the Gospel of Thomas in whole or in part.
Thomas urges individuals to seek and find the kingdom of God spread upon the earth now (sayings 3, 113). Those who come from the light come from light here now (sayings 24, 77). The light of the beginning is here now (saying 18) and Thomas’s references to the beginning are consistent with first-century exegesis of Genesis 1 and 2. Thomas nowhere refers to any demiurge or to any rebellious angel or any place for the kingdom apart from this world). Thomas knows nothing of archons to whom passwords are to be delivered, nor does Thomas mention any ascent by anyone to anywhere.”