Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 107 A parable of a lost sheep
Early Christian Writings Commentary
Title: Gospel of Thomas Commentary: Saying 107
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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(107) Jesus said: The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep; one of them, the biggest, went astray; he left (the) ninety-nine (and) sought after the one until he found it. After he had laboured, he said to the sheep: I love you more than the ninety-nine.
(107) Jesus said, “What the kingdom resembles is a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, strayed away. He left the ninety-nine and sought the one until he found it. After having toiled, he said to the sheep, ‘I love you (sing.) more than the ninety-nine.'”
111 . Jesus says: “The Kingdom is like a shepherd who has a hundred sheep. One of them, the biggest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine others and looked for this single <sheep> until he found it. After taking this trouble, he said to the sheep: ‘I love you more than the ninety-nine <others>!'”
Marvin Meyer writes: “In the Babylonian Talmud, a contrast is made between ninety-nine people who urge one thing and one person who is more on the side of the law; and in the Midrash Rabbah of Genesis, a person is described leaving eleven cows to find the one that wandered away.”
R. McL. Wilson writes: “Accustomed as we are to the familiar story in the Synoptic Gospels, this version must come as something of a suprise, the more particularly since in the Synoptics it is not a parable of the kingdom at all. As Cerfaux observes, however, the parable was a favourite with the Gnostics, who adapted it for their own purposes.
He finds an explanation in the Gospel of Truth (32.18-25), which links the lost sheep of this parable with that of Matthew xii. 11 f., the sheep fallen into the well. This, with some other features, would provide clear evidence of Gnostic redaction. For Bartsch the addition of ‘the largest’ is merely an explanatory expansion to explain the shepherd’s search, but if the analogy of the fish and the pearl is borne in mind it may, perhaps, be suggested that the point is somewhat more significant: the sheep would seem to be either the Gnostic, for whose sake Christ the shepherd labours, or the kingdom (identified as elsewhere with gnosis) for which the Gnostic must strive.
Bauer draws attention to the Valentinian interpretation recorded by Irenaeus and, like Doresse before him, to the speculations on the number ninety-nine in the Gospel of Truth, but Grant and Freedman see no reason to suppose that Thomas had such calculations in mind; of this it can only be said that all the available evidence must be collected for examination, even if some of it may eventually prove irrelevant.
Finally there is the variant in the closing words: ‘I love thee more . . .’ for Matthew’s ‘he rejoiceth.’ Guillaumont’s suggestion that these are different versions of the underlying Aramaic is certainly attractive, but this must be left to the specialists in that field. As it is, there has been some development of this parable in the Synoptic tradition itself, as comparison of the Matthean and Lucan versions will suffice to show.”
Funk and Hoover write: “Thomas’ version of the lost sheep has moved away from the original: the lost sheep here is the largest of the flock – a motif repeated elsewhere in Thomas (in the parable of the leaven, Thom 96:1-2, and in the parable of the fishnet, 8:1-3). The shepherd loves the large sheep more than the ninety-nine, according to Thomas. In the version of Matthew (18:12-13), the shepherd loves the single sheep simply because it is lost. The themes and interests that have prompted Thomas to revise the story are alien to the authentic parables and aphorisms of Jesus.”
F. F. Bruce writes: “In the canonical versions of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15.3-7; cf. Matthew 18.12 f.), the owner puts himself to exceptional trouble over the hundredth sheep just because it is lost. This is unacceptable to our present editor, who rationalizes the situation by explaining that the lost sheep was the biggest (and presumably the most valuable) in the flock. Either the shepherd is Jesus and the hundredth sheep the true Gnostic, or the shepherd is the Gnostic and the sheep the true knowledge (like the big fish in Saying 8 and the pearl in Saying 76).”
Gerd Ludemann writes: “The parable has a parallel in Matt. 18.12-13/Luke 15.4-6 (=Q) and represents a further development of the Q parable. For the lost sheep has now become the largest (v. 2). This is a motif which corresponds to 8.1-3 and 96.1-2. Two interpretations of the parable in Gnostic terms are possible: (a) the shepherd stands for the Saviour, who in the large sheep seeks and finds the Gnostic self which has gone astray in the world. (b) The shepherd represents the Gnostic himself, who seeks and finds himself.”
Helmut Koester writes: “Gos. Thom. 107 lacks the secondary applications found in Matt 18:14 (‘So it is not the will of my father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish’) and Luke 16:7 (‘There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner repenting than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance’).”