Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 089 We should wash not only the outside

Early Christian Writings Commentary

Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 89

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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FromEarly Christian Writings 

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Horst Balz. (T87)
Bentley Layton. (T68)
Harold W Attridge. (T34)
Jean Doresse. (T81)
Robert Funk. (T71)

Our Ref:
ECST: 014.10.000.T34
ECST: 014.10.000.T68
ECST: 014.10.000.T71
ECST: 014.10.000.T81
ECST: 014.10.000.T87

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text

Gospel of Thomas Coptic Text

BLATZ[1]4CM Translator ID: T87

(89) Jesus said: Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not understand that he who made the inside is also he who made the outside?

LAYTON[2]4CM Translator ID: T68

(89) Jesus said, “Why are you (plur.) washing the inside of the cup? Don’t you think that the one who made the inside is the very same one who made the outside?”

DORESSE[3]4CM Translator ID: T81

93 [89]. Jesus says: “Why do you wash the outside of the cup, and do not think that he who made the inside made the outside also?”

Funk’s Parallels[4]4CM Translator ID: T71

• Luke 11:39-41 KJV
• Matt 23:25-26 KJV

Scholarly Quotes

R. McL. Wilson writes: “The parallel here is Luke xi. 39-40, which itself has often given rise to perplexity. It can be punctuated as a question, ‘Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?,’ in which case the meaning may probably be summed up in the words of verse 42: this ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone.

The merely external and ritual observances are worthless without purity of heart. It is also possible, although perhaps less probable, that we should punctuate as a statement: ‘He who sets the outside right does not set the inside right’; but this seems flat and tautologous. More important is the fact that some of our authorities in Luke reverse the order of ‘inside’ and ‘outside,’ exactly as in Thomas.

This raises questions of textual criticism, which will be considered later. Quispel has suggested that Luke, as presented by the majority of our manuscripts, has preserved one half of an original parallelism, Thomas and the remaining manuscripts the other; and he adds the further suggestion that this logion may be from the Gospel of the Hebrews, and may be the text underlying logion 22, which, as already noted, has been identified as from the Gospel of the Egyptians.

The suggestion has much to commend it, but if it is correct Luke must have adapted the saying for his own purposes; the relation of Luke to Matthew here, and to their common source, has been variously interpreted. On the other hand it may be doubted if the parallelism is really authentic and not the result of a playing with words by a later hand. The textual variant might be merely accidental; the one fact which gives it a claim to further consideration is that it occurs not in Thomas only but in other sources.” 

Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 83-84

Helmut Koester writes: “This is the first of the two sayings which Thomas shares with the synoptic speech against the Pharisees. However, it can be understood as a community rule rather than a polemical saying. There is no reference to the Pharisees; the accusation that those who practice such purification ‘are full of extortion and wickedness’ is missing, as is the slanderous ‘You fools!’ That Gos. Thom. 89 reverses the order ‘outside/inside’ in the second part of the saying is of no consequence because there is no polemical intent.”

Ancient Christian Gospels, p. 92

Funk and Hoover write: “This saying was voted pink in its Thomas form, while the Q version preserved by Matt (23:25-26) and Luke (11:39-41) was designated gray. Matthew and Luke have turned the original aphorism into a mixed metaphor about cup and self: the outside of the cup concerns ritual purity, the inside of the self is full of greed and evil. In Thomas, however, the aphorism is recorded without context or moralizing conclusion. The outside and inside are made equal, because they are both made by the same creator. The aphorism thus appears to have been a criticism of the ritual washing of vessels such as cups. In this form, it could well have come from Jesus.” 

The Five Gospels, p. 520

Gerd Ludemann writes: “The logion has a parallel in Matt. 23.25-26/Luke 11.39-41 (=Q). But it seems original by comparison with the Synoptic parallels, as it emphasizes one notion (and does not, like Matthew/Luke, include the inside of the person as well as the outside of the cup). Because the one who created the outside of the cup and what is inside is the same, washing the inside and the outside are made equal. Hence the following conclusion suggests itself: if the inside is not washed, the outside does not need to be washed either.” 

Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 634


1 4CM Translator ID: T87
2 4CM Translator ID: T68
3 4CM Translator ID: T81
4 4CM Translator ID: T71

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