Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 083 Light is hidden by images
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 83
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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87 . Jesus says: “Images are visible to man, but the light which is in them is hidden. In the image of the light of the Father, it <this light> will be revealed, and his image will be veiled by his light.”
Marvin Meyer quotes Philo of Alexandria in Allegorical Interpretation of Genesis 1.31-32 commenting on Genesis 2:7 as follows: “‘And God formed humankind by taking clay from the earth, and he breathed into the face the breath of life, and humankind became a living soul.’
There are two kinds of human beings: One is heavenly, the other earthly. Now the heavenly is made in the image of God and is completely free of corruptible and earthly substance; but the earthly was constructed from matter scattered about, which he (that is, Moses) calls clay.
Therefore he says that the heavenly human was not moulded but was stamped in the image of God, while the earthly human is a moulded thing, but not an offspring, of the Artisan. One must deduce that the human being from the earth is mind admitting but not yet penetrated by the body.”
Marvin Meyer writes: “Elsewhere, in his tractate On the Creation of the World 134, Philo describes the heavenly human, created in God’s image, as ‘an idea or kind or seal, an object of thought, incorporeal, neither male nor female, incorruptible by nature.’ In the Gnostic Secret Book of John II 15,2-5 the demiurge Yaldabaoth may even distinguish between the image and the likeness when he says to his authorities, ‘Come, let us create a human being in the image of God and in our likeness, so that the image of the human being may become a light for us.’ In general, compare also 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4-6; 1 Timothy 6:14-16.”
Jean Doresse writes: “The doctrine of images is of Platonic origin; they are the models or primordial unattainable ideas, which exist in the mind of God. Here, however, it is the images which are visible, while the light which is within them is invisible. It becomes visible, however, through the Father’s light, while his image remains veiled by his light.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “The ‘image of the Father’s light’ is presumably Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4.4; Colossians 1.15), who cannot be adequately perceived by those are are still in mortal body. When mortality is at last sloughed off, he will be fully manifest (cf. Colossians 3.4; 1 John 3.2).”
Stevan Davies writes: “I read for saying 83 not ‘he will be manifest…’ but ‘It [the light of the Father] will be manifest….’ That the Father Himself becomes manifest while His image does not is, I think, an absurdity in the context of Thomas.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “The logion defines the relationship between image, light and Father. Cf. Gospel of Philip 67: ‘The truth did not come naked into the world, but came in types and images. It (= the world) will not (be able to) receive it otherwise.’ See further 50.1-2.”
Funk and Hoover write: “This saying makes use of the language of the Platonic schools, which were active at the time the Christian movement began. According to Plato, God or the Demiurge brought the world into being, but crafted it according to an eternal archetype or ‘image’ (sometimes called a ‘form’). The sensory world was contrasted in Platonism with the world of ‘images’ or ‘forms,’ which were eternal and fixed.
Platonism influenced Philo, a Jewish philosopher of considerable stature living in Alexandria, Egypt, at the time of Jesus. A little later, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, another Egyptian Christian philosopher-theologian, began to integrate Platonism and Christian thought. This saying in Thomas thus reflects early Christian attempts to formulate its theology in Greek philosophical terms, something entirely alien to Jesus, but quite common in many parts of Christendom.”
Stephen Patterson writes: “Thom. 83 probably also has to do with instruction on what to look for when one encounters God in the beatific vision. It deals with the theme of ‘light,’ or the experience of luminosity that is often associated with visionary experience. In distinction from the light that is hidden within the human likeness, God’s light is overwhelming.”