Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 091 Recognition of Jesus’ presence

Early Christian Writings Commentary

Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 91

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

(91) They said to him: Tell us who you are, that we may believe in you. He said to them: You test the face of the sky and of the earth, and him who is before you you have not known, and you do not know (how) to test this moment.

LAYTON[2]4CM Translator ID: T68

(91) They said to him, “Tell us who you are, so that we might believe in you.” He said to them, “You (plur.) are testing the face of heaven and earth, and you have not recognized the one who is in your presence! And you do not recognize how to test the present time.”

DORESSE[3]4CM Translator ID: T81

95 [91]. They said to him: “Tell us who thou art that we may believe in thee.” He said to them: “You examine the appearance of heaven and earth, but He who is in front of you you do not recognise, and this moment you know not how to examine!”

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

• Luke 12:54-56 KJV
• Matt 16:1-4 KJV

Scholarly Quotes

R. McL. Wilson writes: “The actual saying is most closely parallel to Luke xii. 56, a passage omitted from some manuscripts of Matthew; but the opening suggests that the author knew Matthew xvi. 1-4 with the ‘Western interpolation.’ If this be so, the specific reference to Pharisees and Sadducees has been omitted, and this would suggest an advanced stage of the tradition.

Grant and Freedman, like Doresse before them, interpret of the disciples, quoting John viii. 25 ff., which may be correct for Thomas as it stands; but we may also recall such texts as John x. 24: ‘If Thou be the Christ, tell us plainly,’ and the many challenges put to Jesus by His opponents, who demanded a ‘sign.’ The words inserted into the Lucan saying recall logion 5 (Know what is in thy sight . . .), in which Puech has suggested that we should read a masculine rather than a neuter.

The Greek of logion 5 is unfortunately fragmentary, and Coptic has no distinct neuter form, but confirmation for Puech’s suggestion may perhaps be found in logia 52 (the Living One who is before you) and 59 (Look upon the Living One as long as you live . . .).

Altogether, such sayings as logion 91 seem to present excellent specimens of the development of the early tradition: floating sayings, detached from their original context, the specific references smoothed away, so that they could later be employed for quite a different purpose. Sometimes the shorter versions which appear in Thomas have an appearance of originality, and one is tempted to suggest that it is the Synoptic version which has suffered elaboration; but such cases as this give warning against hasty conclusions.”

Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 65-66

F. F. Bruce writes: “The disciples’ request is similar to that of the man cured of his blindness in John 9.36 (cf. John 8.25-30); Jesus’s answer is based on his words in Luke 12.54-56, but in this context the original historical reference has been replaced by an exhortation to self-knowledge.”

Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 146

Helmut Koester writes: “There is no trace in Thomas of the first part of this saying (Q/Luke 12:54-55). The secondary address ‘hypocrites’ of Luke 12:56 (no parallel in Matt 16:3b) is missing in Thomas as is Matthew’s expansion ‘the signs of the time.'” 

Ancient Christian Gospels, pp. 94-95

J. D. Crossan writes: “In terms of form the Thomas text is an aphoristic dialogue, as in Matt. 16:1-3, rather than an aphoristic saying, as in Q/Luke 12:54-56.”

In Fragments, p. 249

J. D. Crossan writes: “In terms of content, there are two important differences between Gos. Thom. 91 and Q/Luke 12:54-56. Thomas gives no concrete examples of weather indications, yet he does mention ‘the face of the sky and of the earth,’ and this fits with the types of indications mentioned in Luke: cloud and wind. But the more significant change is that, corresponding to the opening question – ‘They said to him, “Tell us who You are so that we may believe in You”‘ – the aphoristic dialogue contains ‘but you have not recognized the one who (or: that which) is before you.’ This is best seen as ‘a Gnosticized reworking of the saying we have known from Luke 12:56’ (Sieber: 220).”

In Fragments, pp. 249-250


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

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