Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 064 A parable of a dinner for out-of-town guests
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 64
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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(64) Jesus said: A man had guests; and when he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servants to invite the guests. He went to the first, and said to him: My master invites you. He said: I have money with some merchants; they are coming to me this evening. I will go and give them my orders. I ask to be excused from the dinner. He went to another (and) said to him: My master invites you. He said to him: I have bought a house, and I am asked for a day. I shall not have time. He went to another (and) said to him: My master invites you. He said to him: My friend is about to be married, and I am to arrange the dinner. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused from dinner. He went to another, he said to him: My master invites you. He said to him: I have bought a farm; I am going to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused. The servant came back (and) said to his master: Those whom you have invited to dinner have asked to be excused. The master said to his servant: Go out to the roads, bring those whom you find, that they may dine. Traders and merchants [shall] not [enter] the places of my Father.
(64) Jesus said, “A man was receiving out-of-town visitors. And having prepared the dinner, he sent a slave to invite the visitors. The slave went first and said to that one, ‘My master invites you.’ That person said, ‘Some wholesale merchants owe me money; they are coming to me this evening, and I shall go and give them instructions. I must decline the dinner invitation.’ The slave went to another and said to that one, ‘My master invites you.’ That person said to the slave, ‘I have bought a building, and I am needed for a time. I am not free.’ The slave went to another and said to that one, ‘My master invites you.’ That person said to the slave, ‘My friend is about to get married, and it is I who am going to give the dinner. I cannot come; I must decline the dinner invitation.’ The slave went to another and said to that one, ‘My master invites you.’ That person said to the slave, ‘I have bought a village; I am going to collect the rents. I cannot come, I must decline.’ The slave came and said to its master, ‘The people you have invited to the dinner have declined.’ The master said to his slave, ‘Go outside into the streets; bring in whomever you find, to have dinner.’ Buyers and traders [will] not enter the places of my father.”
68 . Jesus says: “A man had guests. When he had prepared the feast, he sent his servant to call these guests. He went to the first and said to him: ‘My master invites thee!’ <The other> replied: ‘I am due to receive some money from some merchants; they are coming to see me this evening and I am going to give them orders. I ask to be excused from the feast.’ <The servant> went to another and said to him: ‘My master has invited thee.’ <He> said to him: ‘I have bought a house and I am needed for the day: I am not free.’ He went to another and said to him: ‘My master invites thee!’ <He> replied: ‘My friend is being married and I am giving a feast <for him>. I will not come; I ask to be excused from the feast!” He went to another and said to him: ‘My master invites thee!’ <He> said to him: ‘I have bought a field (?) and I have not yet been to receive the revenue <from it>. I will not be coming; I ask to be excused from the feast!’ The servant returned and said to his master: ‘Those whom you invited to the feast have excused themselves.’ The master said to his servant: ‘Go out into the streets and those whom you find, bring in to dine.’ The buyers and mer[chants will not enter] into the places of my Father.”
• Deut 20:5-7 KJV
• Deut 24:5 KJV
• Luke 14:15-24 KJV
• Matt 22:1-14 KJV
• Sirach 26:29 GNT
Marvin Meyer writes: “The Palestinian Talmud recounts a similar story about the rich tax-collector Bar Ma’jan, who arranged a feast for the city officials; when they did not come, he invited the poor instead.”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Here Thomas rewrites the parable of the banquet in Luke 14:16-24, adding some minor details from a similar story in Matthew 22:1-10. Much of the narrative differs from the gospel parables, however. According to Luke, the first man to be invited had bought a field which he had to see; another had bought five yoke of oxen and had to test them; the third had just been married.
In Matthew only two are mentioned: one goes away to his own field, the other to his own business. As it is told in Thomas, the parable develops the notion of business dealings from Matthew, and the mention of a wedding (also in Matthew, but not as an excuse), as well as the recurrent sentence, ‘I excuse myself from the banquet,’ from Luke. The excuses offered in the Lucan parable reflect the rural atmosphere (field, oxen); those in Thomas seem to be more urban in character, and the idea of buying a village is alien to the environment of the synoptic gospels.”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “In Thomas the first guest invited must settle with merchants who owe him money, the second has bought a house, a third a village (the official translation reads ‘farm’, but the word is KWMH) and must go to collect the rent. The remaining excuse does mention a wedding, but here the man has to arrange a dinner for his friend who is about to be married, or possible (in Schoedel’s translation) to direct the wedding banquet.
Here Grant and Freedman see only a re-writing of Luke with some minor details from Matthew, but it may be questioned if this is a sufficient explanation. On the other hand they would seem to be correct in suggesting that the excuses in the Lucan parable reflect a rural background, while those in Thomas are more urban in character. The true explanation may rather be that here we have a parable developing in the course of transmission, on its way, in fact, from a Palestinian to a Hellenistic environment.”
Joachim Jeremias writes: “The parable of the Great Supper in the Gospel of Thomas 64 ends with the sentence, ‘Tradesman and merchants shall not enter the places of my Father.’ Even if the reference is, in the first place, to the prosperous who decline the invitation, its generalized terms convey the idea of a sharp attack on the rich.
This attitude of class-consciousness is to some extent in line with that of Luke in this parable (14.16-24) which he introduces as a sequel to the warning not to invite the richer and prosperous, but the poor, lame, halt, and blind (14.12-14). By his repetition of this list in 14.21 he indicates that the parable is intended to be a hortatory illustration of 14.12-14: one should behave like the host in the parable who symbolically invites to his table the poor, the lame, the blind, and the halt.
But that is surely not the original intention of the parable: in it, as we shall see, Jesus should rather be regarded as vindicating before his critics his preaching of the good news to the poor: he is saying, in effect, ‘While you are refusing salvation, God is calling the despised to share the salvation of the people of God.'”
Funk and Hoover write: “In place of the three initial invitations, Thomas has four and they vary somewhat from the invitations found in Luke. The first wants to be excused because some merchants are coming to repay a debt that evening; the second has just bought a house; the third has to arrange a marriage banquet for a friend; and the fourth has just purchased an estate.
Thomas appears to have exaggerated the commercial basis for rejecting the invitations, which accords with his own concluding generalization in v. 12: ‘Buyers and merchants will not enter the places of my Father.’ As in Luke, the slave then goes out into the streets and brings back whoever happens to be about at that hour. However, Thomas does not describe them as poor and handicapped.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “By comparison with the related parable Luke 14.15-24 (Matt. 22.1-14), Thomas offers an allegory-free version which may stand closest to the original parable. (For the secondary features in the present parable see on Luke 14.15-24.) This is the case despite the fact that as in Thomas 63 an urban milieu has taken the place of the rural one. The invitation expressed in the same words (vv. 2, 4, 6, 8) is in popular narrative style.”
Helmut Koester writes: “The absence of secondary apocalyptic motifs is also evident in Thomas’s version of the parable of the Great Banquet (Q/Luke 14:16-23 = Gos. Thom. 64). Matt 25:2-10 has allegorized this parable. Luke also added some allegorical features when he appended the second invitation to those ‘on the roads and hedges’ of the countryside (Luke 14:23), apparently a reference to the Gentile mission.
At the end of his parable Thomas reports only the invitation to those on the streets of the city, and there are no traces of any allegorization in his version. This version is based unquestionably upon the original form of the parable and not on either Matthew or Luke. On the other hand, Thomas has changed the excuses of the first invited guests so that they reflect more closely the milieu of the city.
There are four invitations, instead of three, and the excuses are ‘I have claims against some merchants,’ ‘I have bought a house,’ ‘My friend is to be married,’ and ‘I am on the way to collect rent from a farm.’ At the end Thomas adds, ‘Businessmen and merchants [will] not enter the places of my Father.’ No doubt, this is a secondary application.”