Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 051 Arrival of repose and a new world
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 51
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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(51) His disciples said to him, “When will the repose of the dead come to pass, and when will the new world come?” He said to them, “That (repose) which you (plur.) are waiting for has come, but for your part you do not recognize it.”
56 . His disciples said to him: “On what day shall rest come to those who are dead, and on what day shall the new world come?” He said to them: “This <rest> that you wait for has (already) come, and you have not recognised it.”
Treatise on the Resurrection 49:9-25 also presents resurrection as something that has already happened: “So do not think in a partial fashion, Rheginos, nor conduct yourself in accordance with this flesh for the sake of oneness, but flee from the divisions and the bonds, and already you have the resurrection. For if one who will die knows about oneself that one will die – even if one spends many years in this life, one is brought to this – why not regard yourself as risen and brought to this?”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “The question is Thomas’s equivalent for the Pharisee’s question about the coming of the kingdom in Luke 17:20; the answer is like the answer in Luke 17:21: ‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ Because, like the earthly Jerusalem (Luke 19:42, 44), the disciples are still blind, they do not (fully) recognize its presence – in Jesus.”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “Of the latter Bartsch observes that Gnostic Umbildung is unmistakable, and that the idea of the ‘new world’ comes form such works as 2 Peter (iii. 13) and Revelation (xxi. 1); but the motif of the disciples’ lack of understanding is definitely old. Bauer at one point offers an interpretation which would explain logion 51 in the context of the earthly life of Jesus, but quotes also a Naassene text which shows how the version in Thomas might have developed.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “The theme of ‘rest’ is carried on from Saying 50. But the expectation of rest after death is here transformed into an assurance that the Gnostic has attained true rest already. This kind of transformation, not unlike that which Paul describes ironically in 1 Corinthians 4.8, is sometimes referred to as an ‘over-realised eschatology’ (cf. 2 Timothy 2.18).”
Funk and Hoover write: “The question posed in v. 1 employs the characteristic Thomean term ‘rest’: this term is a synonym for salvation in Thomas (see 50:3; 60:6; 90; in addition, the Greek fragment of Thomas 2 adds the additional verse: ‘and having reigned, one will rest.’) The term ‘rest’ with a similar meaning is not unknown in other texts, both Christian (Matt 11:28-29; Rev 14:13) and Judean (Sir 51:26-27), but it carried special significance among Gnostic Christians and Platonists. To achieve ‘rest’ meant to find one’s place again in unity with the highest God.
(In developed Gnostic systems, at the beginning was the incomprehensible, invisible, eternal, and ungenerated Forefather, Depth; Depth gave rise to a female counterpart, Silence. Together they produced the next pair of Aeons, which eventuate in fourteen such pairs, each pair with lesser power and memory of its origin than the previous pair. At the lowest level is Wisdom and the creator God. Salvation consists in reascending the ladder of divine emanations and rejoining the godhead.)”