Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 063 A parable of a rich man who died
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 63
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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(63) Jesus said: There was a rich man who had many possessions. He said: I will use my possessions to sow and reap and plant, to fill my barns with fruit, that I may have need of nothing. Those were his thoughts in his heart; and in that night he died. He who has ears, let him hear.
(63) Jesus said, “There was a rich man who had considerable wealth. He said, ‘I shall invest my wealth so as to sow, reap, plant, and fill my barns with crops, lest I run short of something.’ These things are what he was thinking in his heart, and that very night the man died. Whoever has ears should listen!”
67 . Jesus says: “There was a rich man who had many possessions. He said <to himself:> ‘I will use my wealth to sow my field, to plant, to fill my barn with harvest, so that need will not touch me.’ Such were the things that he thought in his heart. But during that night, he died. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “This is clearly a shorter version of Luke xii. 16-21, a passage peculiar to Luke; the preceding verses in Luke, which in that Gospel are the occasion of the saying, appear in Thomas as logion 72; those which follow, about anxiety over the things of this world, in logion 36. Formally, this should probably be considered a later development of the Lucan parable, but this does not necessarily mean that it was derived from Luke.
Grant and Freedman suggest that the words ‘this night they will require your soul of you’ are omitted ‘perhaps because something like them will recur in saying 88,’ but the similarity is rather remote and, moreover, this would seem to presuppose a rather closer literary dependence than is justified by the gospel as a whole.
In some cases we can indeed speak of intentional or unintentional harmonization, words or phrases occurring to the mind of the author by association with what he is writing, but in others it is difficult to imagine him selecting a word here, a saying there, and keeping part of another saying for use at a later stage.
Explanations which are to be valid must take account of what we can learn of the writer’s methods, and free citation from memory would appear to be nearer the mark than an extensive use of scissors and paste.”
Joachim Jeremias writes: “The closing sentence, too, of the parable of the Rich Fool: ‘So (foolishly behaves the man) who heaps up treasure for himself and does not gather wealth toward God’ (Luke 12.21), must be an addition; it is missing from the Gospel of Thomas (63), and gives a moralizing meaning to the parable, which blunts the sharp edge of its warning.”
Helmut Koester writes: “There are two secondary features in the narrative of Luke: the conclusion and the moralizing discourse. Both are missing in Thomas’s version which presents this story in the more original form of a reversal parable. On the other hand, Thomas has also transferred the parable into a different milieu. The rich man is no longer a wealthy farmer but a decurion from the city who wants to invest his money successfully. The maxim at the end of Gos. Thom. 63 is of course secondary, but it does not reveal any knowledge of Luke’s conclusion.”
Funk and Hoover write: “Whether Luke’s version of this parable is drawn from Luke’s special material or from Q is debated by scholars, but Thomas’ version is drawn from neither. It is a simpler form of the parable, containing none of Luke’s moralizing tone, and has an abrupt, uninterpreted conclusion rather than Luke’s pronouncement (v. 20: ‘God said to him, “You fool!
This very night your life will be demanded back from you”‘) and generalizing application (v. 21 ‘That’s they way it is with those who save up for themselves, but aren’t rich where God is concerned’). Thomas also lacks the sequence of sayings on possessions that forms the context of the parable in Luke (12:13-15, 22-34).”
Funk and Hoover write: “As a single, unelaborated tale the Thomas version retains more of the characteristics of orally transmitted tradition and is probably an earlier form of the parable than Luke’s. Thomas has nevertheless shifted the social location of the parable.
His rich man is no longer a farmer. He is an investor who seeks such a high return that he will lack nothing. But on very day he has such thoughts he dies and thus loses everything. Thomas’ version seems to turn on its incongruity between his thoughts and his end, whereas Luke’s version focuses on the farmer’s folly.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “This exemplary narrative is related to Luke 12.16-20. But the economic circumstances are slightly different. In Luke we have a farmer who wants to ‘save’, here a businessman who wants to put his money to work. The meaning of the two parables is the same. Sudden death can overtake even the shrewdest of rich men.”