Biblical Archaeology Review 41:4, July/August 2015

The Gospel of Thomas: Jesus Said What?

By Simon Gathercole

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which the man eats, and the lion becomes man.”

Jesus said, “Be passers-by!”

Jesus said, “For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

This hardly sounds like the Jesus familiar to us from the New Testament. It is from the Gospel of Thomas, one of the earliest remakings of Jesus after the four canonical gospels. This gospel must have seemed to some ancient readers, as it does even to scholars today, as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” as Winston Churchill once said of Russia. The strange world of the Gospel of Thomas is of interest not so much because one can find authentic traditions from or about Jesus in it—it doesn’t have any real claim to historical veracity—but because it provides a fascinating window into some of the controversies in the Christian community around the middle of the second century C.E. when it was written.

We have known about the Gospel of Thomas for a long time. A number of Church Fathers mention it disparagingly, from as far back as Hippolytus and Origen in the third century C.E. In his Refutation of All the Heresies, Hippolytus includes it in a list of writings used by Gnostics. Origen includes it in a list of false gospels that tried to write down the truth about Jesus but failed.

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