Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 104 Do not pray or fast while the bridegroom is present
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 104
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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(104) They said [to him]: Come, let us pray today and fast. Jesus said: What then is the sin that I have done, or in what have I been overcome? But when the bridegroom comes out from the bridal chamber, then let them fast and pray.
(104) They said [to Jesus], “Come, let us pray today, and let us fast.” Jesus said, “What is the sin that I have committed? Or how have I been overcome? Rather, when the bridegroom leaves the bridal chamber then let people fast and pray.”
108 . They said [to him:] “Come, let us pray and fast today!” Jesus says: “What then is the sin that I have committed, or in what have I been at fault? But when the bridegroom comes out of the bridal chamber, then they must fast and pray!”
Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: “Jesus is asked to pray and fast (see Sayings 5 and 14). Since he has committed no sin, he refuses, just as in the Gospel of the Hebrews (see page 33) he does not wish to be baptized, and in John 7:3-9 Jesus does not wish to go to the Feast of Tabernacles. However, fasting and prayer are permissible ‘when the bridegroom comes out of the bride chamber’ (cf., Matthew 9:14; Mark 2:19-20; Luke 5:34-35). Since no Gnostic leaves the bride chamber (see Saying 75), this means that the Gnostic will never fast or pray.”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “Prayer and fasting are more or less emphatically condemned in logia 6 and 14. The obvious canonical parallel is the saying in Mark ii. 18-20, spoken in reply to a criticism that the disciples of Jesus, unlike the Pharisees and the followers of John, were not engaged in fasting. The introduction has been re-written, and indeed we can see the beginnings of such re-writing in Matthew and Luke as compared with Mark; all that has survived is a modified form of the prophecy that the day will come when the bridegroom is no longer present, and then will be the time for fasting.
The first sentence of Jesus’ reply here, however, is quoted by Jerome as occurring in ‘the Gospel according to the Hebrews . . . which the Nazarene’s use,’ which gives further support to the view that there is some connection between the two documents. The passage in the Gospel of the Hebrews, however, refers to the baptism of John: Jesus declines to go because He has no consciousness of sin, and therefore no need of baptism for remission of sins.
Moreover, some scholars attribute the quotation to the Gospel of the Nazarene’s. In the present state of our knowledge the relation between these two documents is by no means clear. Bauer notes that at one point, where we can check Thomas against both the Gospel of the Nazarenes and that of Matthew (logion 39), Thomas by reading ‘wise as serpents’ instead of ‘wiser than serpents’ agrees with Matthew.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “The saying expresses the same negative attitude to external acts of piety as Sayings 6, 14 and 27. It is similar to Jesus’s reply to the criticism of his disciples for not fasting in Mark 2.18-20, but prayer is here added to fasting. The canonical mention of the bridegroom, which is purely parabolic, is amplified here by reference to the bridal chamber, which (as we have said in the comment on Saying 75) played an important part in the special vocabulary of some Gnostic groups. The opening words of Jesus’s reply (‘What sin have I committed . . . ?’) resemble his reply in the Gospel according to the Hebrews that he should join his family in seeking baptism at John’s hands.”
J. D. Crossan writes: “I distinguish between dialogue and story even though the latter may easily contain the former. What is significant, however, is that the former need not contain the latter. And this becomes especially important for the gnostic transmission of the Jesus tradition. Compare, for example, how the dialectical dialogue of Gos. Thom. 104 appears as a dialectical story in Mark 2:18-20 and is heightened there by the presence of Mark 2:18, which is omitted in Matt. 9:14 = Luke 5:33.”
Helmut Koester writes: “The first part of Jesus’ answer in Gos. Thom. 104 is evidently a later expansion. The second part corresponds to the last sentence of this pericope in Mark, albeit without the explicit reference to ‘that day’ with which Mark points to the day of Jesus’ death. There is no reference in Thomas to the disciples of John and the Pharisees. At least with respect to the latter, there would have been no reason for Thomas to delete it, had it been a part of his text or tradition.”
Stephen Patterson writes: “Initially the saying seems to be in agreement with Thom. 14:1-2 in rejecting fasting and prayer. One is reminded here of the tradition in which Jesus is accused of being ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ (see Luke 7:34; Matt. 11:19 [Q]). But then 104:3 seems to shift the position of the text: at some point fasting will be appropriate.
But when? Does the “bridal chamber” refer to that ritual of initiation known from Syrian and later Gnostic Christianity? Could it be that although Jesus did not fast, here initiates into Thomas Christianity are encouraged to do so? Or does Thom. 104:3 refer in some enigmatic way to the death of Jesus (cf. the parallel tradition in Mark 2:20), so that one may fast after Jesus’ death? Perhaps. Still, fasting is not uncommon as a pious practice; even if it is somehow encouraged in 104:3, this is hardly indicative of a full-scale asceticism among Thomas Christians.”