Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 084 Our encounter with our preexistent images
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 84
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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(84) Jesus said, “When you (plur.) see your resemblance you are happy. But when you see your images that came into existence before you and are neither mortal nor visible, how much you will have to bear!”
88 . Jesus says: “Now, when you see your appearance, you rejoice. But when you see your images which came into being before you, which do not die and do not show themselves, how will you be able to bear such greatness?”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “Like Irenaeus and some other Fathers, Thomas distinguishes between the ‘image’ and the ‘likeness’ in Genesis i. 26. Man on earth possesses only the likeness; the iamge (for Thomas) is his heavenly counterpart, the pattern on which he was made. Now we see only the likeness, as in a mirror (Doresse quotes 1 Cor. xiii. 12, 2 Cor. iii. 18), but when Christ shall appear we shall be like Him (1 John iii. 2, quoted by Grant and Freedman).
Logion 24 speaks of the light that is in a man of light (cf. Matt. v. 14, vi. 22-23), logion 50 of the disciples (or the Gnostics) as coming from the Light, and the Pistis Sophia (chaps. 2-6) of a light descending upon Jesus, so bright that the disciples were blinded and could not see Him. Christ is the image of God (Col. i. 15 etc.), and Paul speaks of ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. iv. 4, 6, quoted by Grant and Freedman).
Colossians iii. 3 speaks of our life as ‘hid with Christ in god,’ and we may also recall the Pauline formula ‘in Christ.’ Finally, the opening words of logion 83 may owe something to reflection on Romans i. 20 ff., the ‘invisible things of God’ being interpreted as the archetypal patterns, the ‘images’ or Platonic ideas of all created things. Such speculations seem to belong to a period later than the New Testament, and certainly long after the time of Jesus.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “This carries on the thought of the previous saying. Since men are created in the divine image (Genesis 1.26 f.), Christ, who is himself the divine image, is the archetypal man, the true Adam.”
Funk and Hoover write: “This saying is closely related to Thomas 83 and reflects the same early Christian attempt to employ Platonic categories. Some Gnostic’s believed that each person has a heavenly twin, or image, which never perishes, but which awaits the moment of death, when the Gnostic’s soul is reunited with that twin.”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “This verse introduces the eternal heavenly likenesses to which the readers have not yet become assimilated. Thomas raises the question how long the readers can bear it, i.e. can be reminded of their earthly existence, without failing.”
Helmut Koester writes: “Separating the soul from corporeal existence does not mean that the soul would henceforth exist as a disembodied spirit, wandering abstractly through the cosmos without form and identity; rather, the soul freed from its prison would enter a new kind of corporeal existence which awaits her in the heavenly realm.
This new ‘body’ is often spoken of as one’s heavenly ‘image,’ which awaits the soul, but remains guarded and enclosed in the safety of the godhead until it can be properly claimed. Thus Thomas speaks of ‘images,’ for the present concealed in the Father, but waiting for the moment when their splendour will be revealed to the utter astonishment of those by whom they will be claimed: [83 and 84].”
Stevan Davies writes: “For Thomas the world can be conceived in two ways, from the perspective of the primordial light and the beginning, or from the everyday perspective. The difference between these two perspectives is discussed in Thomas’s sayings 50a, 83 and 84 . . . Unfortunately, however, these sayings presuppose an underlying metaphysics that is hinted at so briefly and that is so dependent on unclear pronoun references that certainty in regard to their interpretation may be impossible.
Still, it is hard to deny that these sayings refer ultimately to a form of Platonism wherein there is a highest reality, an image of that reality, and an image of that image which is, evidently, the world as it is ordinarily perceived.”
Stevan Davies writes: “In sayings 50a, 83, and 84, it appears that the images which constitute the world as ordinarily perceived are seen through the image of the primordial light (or, alternatively, the image of the light of the Father). The image of primordial light is our ordinary sunlight. Seeing always in an ordinary way, by ordinary sunlight, precludes seeing the primordial light that permeates all things. In this way the light of the Father is concealed by the image of the light of the Father.”