Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 077 Jesus is the entirety and is everywhere
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 77
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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(77) Jesus said: I am the light that is above them all. I am the all; the all came forth from me, and the all attained to me. Cleave a (piece of) wood; I am there. Raise up a stone, and you will find me there.
LAYTON2)4CM Translator ID: T68
(77) Jesus said, “It is I who am the light (that presides) over all. It is I who am the entirety: it is from me that the entirety has come, and to me that the entirety goes. Split a piece of wood: I am there. Lift a stone, and you (plur.) will find me there.”
DORESSE3)4CM Translator ID: T81
81 . Jesus says: “I am the light which is on them all. I am the All, and the All has gone out from me and the All has come back to me. Cleave the wood: I am there; lift the stone and thou shalt find me there!”
Marvin Meyer writes: “Compare Ecclesiastes 10:9; perhaps Habakkuk 2:18-20, on wooden and stone images. Note also the philosophical position presented by the Greco-Roman author Lucian of Samosata, Hermotimus 81: ‘God is not in heaven but rather permeates all things, such as pieces of wood and stones and animals, even the most insignificant.'”
Jean Doresse writes: “Cf. the Gnostic Gospel of Truth (Codex XIII of Chenoboskion, p. 17): ‘The All has been in search of Him from whom he came forth; and the All was within him, unseizing, unthinkable!’ One might also mention the Acts of Peter, Chapter XXXIX: ‘Thou art the All, and the All is in thee, and thou art! And there is nothing else that exists, except thou alone!’ The same allusion is found in Col. III, 11: ‘Christ is all and in all.'”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “As the All, Jesus is everywhere present. He is in wood and under stones. We cannot agree with Doresse (pages 188-189) that Thomas is referring to the cross and the stone at his tomb. A much closer parallel is provided in the Gnostic Gospel of Eve (Epiphanius, Pan., 26, 3, 1): ‘In all things I am scattered, and from wherever you wish you collect me.’
At this point Thomas’s doctrine is pantheist, not Christian. The Greek version inserts the words about wood and stone at the end of Saying 31 to indicate that Jesus is present with his disciples, or with one disciple. The meaning is approximately the same: Jesus is everywhere.”
Stevan Davies writes: “Gos. Thom. 77b: ‘Split a piece…’ etc, is appended to Gos. Thom. 30 in POxy. 1. This probably means that 77b once existed independently of 77a, but whether this means that 77a existed once independently of 77b in Thomas we do not know. It is possible that 77b was appended both to 77a and to 30 in POxy 1.”
Stevan Davies writes: “From him, primordial light, all comes forth, and to him all extends. As the light, he is everywhere, for example, within logs and under stones.”
Funk and Hoover write: “In this complex, Jesus speaks of himself in highly exalted terms, as he often does in the Gospel of John (for example, John 8:12; 10:7). But such self-reference is not characteristic of the Jesus of the synoptic parables and aphorisms. The term ‘light’ has special significance in the Gospel of Thomas (11:3b; 24:3; 50:1; 61:5; 83:1-2), and the ‘All’ is a technical Gnostic term for the whole of cosmic reality (note Thomas 67). Such ideas, of course, had currency elsewhere in early Christian circles as well (note John 8:12; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6). But they are not characteristic of Jesus.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “Jesus identifies himself with light (cf. John 8.12; 9.5), which is tremendously important in Thomas: 11.3b; 24.3; 50.1; 61.5; 83.1-2. Jesus claims to be mediator at creation (cf. Romans 11.36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16). All this recalls the role of wisdom. The presence of Jesus as it is described in vv. 2-3 echoes Matt. 18.20; 28.20 – but in that passage, too, there is a wisdom background.”
Jack Finegan writes: “The first sentence in this saying is doubtless to be recognized as thoroughly Gnostic in character. The theme of light is prominent in Gnostic writings (e.g., §113), and the ‘All,’ presumably meaning the totality of being, is also mentioned in such works as the Gospel of Truth (§341).
The second sentence, which is the part common to the Coptic and the Greek texts, can be interpreted most simply as promising the invisible presence of Christ to the believer in his daily work, involved with stone and wood, the common materials of human labour. But with the introductory sentence in the Coptic, where Jesus is the ‘All,’ the promise seems to be set within the framework of pantheism or, more precisely stated, of Panchristism.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “Jesus is not only the light of the world (cf. John 1.9; 8.12); all things cohere in him (Colossians 1.17) and he embodies the fulness of deity (cf. Colossians 2.9). This is presented here in pantheistic terms going far beyond the sense of a canonical saying as Matthew 18.20.”
Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes: “In what sense is this second part of the saying to be understood? It has often been interpreted in a pantheistic sense, or more precisely a ‘panchristic’ sense, asserting the ubiquity of Jesus in the world. Cf. Eph 4:6. J. Jeremias (Unknown Sayings, 96, n. 2) gives a convenient list of those who so explained it.
He rejects this interpretation and prefers that first suggested by H. Lisco and adopted by A. von Harnack, H. B. Swete, and Evelyn White. According to this interpretation, two pictorial illustrations are given to explain how Jesus is present to the individual – two kinds of strenuous work, lifting stones and splitting wood.
The combination of these two types of work was probably suggested by Eccl 10:9, ‘He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, while he who splits logs is endangered by them.’ In contrast to the pessimism of the Preacher, Jesus promises his abiding presence even in the most strenuous type of work.”