Early Christian Heresy: Document Forgery and the Problem of The Gospel of Thomas

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posted on Mar, 5 2011 @ 01:59 PM
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In my previous article in this series on early heretical movements in the Christian church, I noted that one of the criteria for determining whether something was orthodox (correct teaching,) was its adherence to and harmony with scripture, and that one of the criteria for determining whether something was accepted scripture was its Apostolic connection. If something was written by someone who had no Apostolic connection (either wasn't an Apostle, or wasn't writing for one,) it wasn't necessarily wrong, but it wouldn't be considered to be scriptural.

So we have plenty of early Christian writings, such as Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians, which have value, both historically and theologically, but which are not part of scriptural canon. This is very important to Protestants, specifically, because of their strict holding to the premise of Sola Scriptura -- "By scripture alone", which means that everything necessary for salvation is present in the Bible, and nothing can be added after the fact to change that. The edict of Pope Pius IX in 1854 which established the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, for example, is rejected by Protestants not because of its truthfulness (or lack of it,) but because the edict says that if you don't agree with this, you are not in harmony with the Catholic Church, and subject to excommunication or being barred from taking the Eucharist. Protestants look at that and say "there is nothing in scripture regarding this, so you can't deny sacraments that are necessary for salvation to those who disagree."

By establishing such a hierarchy of authorship, the church made document forgery very tempting. With modern notions of currency forgery in mind, one might assume that it means that a document is untrue, but in the historical analysis of these religious documents, forgery has a very specific definition -- a forged document is one which claims to be written by someone who did not write it. The technical term is Pseudepigrapha, it wasn't limited to religious writing, and was actually a very common practice, though, for a somewhat understandable reason.

If I was to write an account of some sort of religious event and call it "The Gospel of Adjensen", I would likely have an audience of one, my Mom. But if I take that same document and call it "The Gospel of Simon the Zealot", interest will be considerably higher. Thus, we have things like The Acts of Pilate, The Gospel of Mary and The Apocalypse of Peter, all books that purport to be written by a person of note, though all evidence is that they were written by someone else.

Two things regarding forgeries and the New Testament need be noted. First, it is claimed, and seems rather likely, that some of the books of the Christian Bible are forgeries (again, bearing in mind that the inaccuracy is not with the text, but rather with the claimed authority of the author.) Second Peter is almost universally held to have been written by someone other than Peter, and there are significant questions about First Peter and the Pastoral Letters of Paul (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) and lesser controversy over others. The defense of these books is that Peter probably didn't write, but the letters were dictations and the differences between them is accounted to different scribes taking Peter's spoken words and restating them for the Greek text (nothing is so much like 1 Peter as 2 Peter is) and that Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus differ from his other letters because of the nature of the content and his relationship to the recipients. None the less, it is not inconceivable that some of these books are not written by who they say they are.

The second thing to note is that a number of books have their authorship inferred, and that may well be wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew is traditionally held to have been written by the Apostle Matthew, but the author never identifies himself. Similarly, the author of the book of James does not claim to be any specific James, but evidence points to him being James, the brother of Jesus. As well, tradition holds that the author of Revelation of John is John the Apostle, but the author never makes this claim, so if the author was John the Evangelist, John of Patmos or some other person named John, the text is not a forgery.

So now we turn to an early Christian text which did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the canon, but which is intriguing in its own right, The Gospel of Thomas. Unlike the Gospels in the Bible, Thomas is not a narrative, but rather is a collection of 114 purported sayings of Jesus. About half of the sayings are also found in the Gospels in the Bible, although generally in much different form. The remainder are sayings that are unique to Thomas, which, if true, would represent an amazing find.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with Thomas -- it is a forgery. Contrary to popular belief, it does not claim to have been written by the Apostle Thomas (he of "Doubting Thomas" fame,) but by an even less likely person. Prior to the sayings, the author attests to his identity:


These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.


"Didymos Judas Thomas" is an unusual name, but it's not really a name, so much as it's a name flanked by a description. Didymos is Greek for "twin" and Thomas is Aramaic for "twin", so the author is claiming to be Judas (or Jude), the twin. Twin of who? The twin brother of Jesus, as attested to in Acts of the Holy Apostle Thomas. Jesus had a brother named Jude, of course, but it was only in Syriac Christianity that there was a belief that Jude was actually a twin, and referred to as Thomas to avoid confusion with Judas Iscariot.

None the less, we have a claimed authority of authorship which cannot be correct, whether Jude or Thomas, because the text was written long after both the those Apostles had died. This can be ascertained by an analysis of the claims made in the Gospel itself, which testify to the nature of the underlying philosophy. Scholars differ on whether the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic document or not, but the arguments for it being one are stronger, and the majority, and I, agree that it is.

I will be dealing with Gnosticism itself in a later article, but if we look back to Marcion from the previous piece, we see a bit of what the Gnostics believed. They were dualists, who believed that spirit was good, and matter was bad. They were polytheistic, and viewed the God of the Jews to be an ignorant bumbler (how could the creator of this terrible material world be good?) And they believed that salvation, which was simply escaping the material form, came through the obtaining of secret knowledge -- Gnosis.

We earlier saw in the preface that Thomas is claiming that the contents of the document are the "secret sayings" of Jesus -- Gnosis.


Saying 1: And he said, "Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death."


Here we see the claim that salvation comes, not from Christ's death and resurrection, or through faith or works, but by hearing, interpreting and understanding these sayings.

 


Saying 29: Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty."


Here, Christ appears to be testifying to classic dualism -- the body coming into being from spirit is one thing, but how is it possible that the spirit came into being from the body? He expresses amazement at the fact that a good spirit can exist in this horrible material body.

 



Saying 108: Jesus said, "He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him."


Those who listen to the words of Christ and correctly discern how to be like him will find the secret knowledge.

 


There are three types of sayings in The Gospel of Thomas -- things that Jesus said and are also found in the New Testament Gospels; things that Christ clearly did not say, such as these clearly Gnostic sayings; and things that Jesus might have said, and are not found in the Bible.

Looking at the first type of saying -- things present both in Thomas and in the Bible -- which, as I said, represents about half of the sayings, textural critics make the interesting observation that the versions of the sayings that appear in Thomas are likely more accurate portrayals of the actual oral tradition words of Christ. The more complicated a passage is, the more likely is the case that it has been "polished" by the author. For example, consider this instance:


Saying 63: Jesus said, "There was a rich man who had much money. He said, 'I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouse with produce, with the result that I shall lack nothing.' Such were his intentions, but that same night he died. Let him who has ears hear."



Luke 12:16-21: And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.


Clearly, though the core of the messages is the same, the passage in Luke is much more refined, so, from a textural standpoint, it is more likely that Thomas has the saying closer to what Christ really said. From an historical basis, this is what makes Thomas an intriguing document, because it seems to point to a different, but similar, source of the words of Christ than that used by the Gospels in the Bible. Because of this, it is entirely possible that some of the sayings in the second category of them -- things that Jesus might have said, but are not otherwise known -- are actually true quotes that could help us to get a fuller picture of the sayings of Christ. There is nothing earthshaking there, because we need to dismiss the overtly Gnostic sayings, but they are of value, if they are correct.

Unfortunately, it ends on that point, though, because the Gospel of Thomas is not merely a forgery, it is intentionally written in such a way as to make it impossible to determine whether those sayings are legitimate or not. The author has deliberately mixed authentic statements of Christ with things he clearly did not say, sometimes in the same passage. For example:


Jesus said, "Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All."


This starts out like Matthew 6:33 ("Seek ye first the Kingdom of God") but then veers off into the notion that what you find (the material world) will be repugnant to you, but once you are repulsed, you will find the truth (the spiritual world), and then you will be saved.

That is the inherent problem with The Gospel of Thomas -- the value that the orthodox Christian might find in such a document must be discounted because of the unreliable nature and motives of the text's authorship. Because of the fact that it is both a forgery and contains heretical teaching, Thomas was never seriously considered for inclusion in the Orthodox Christian scriptural canon, contrary to popular belief.


edit on 5-3-2011 by adjensen because: organization




posted on Mar, 5 2011 @ 05:56 PM
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Well, adj. We seem to be creeping up on the Gnostics. But Thomas is not quite there yet, IMO.

It is true that the most nearly complete, by far, manuscript of Thomas we have is tainted by Gnostic junk. And it's a translation into Coptic, which cannot help.

We might wonder, what with our being in the Conspiracies in Religion section and all, what happened to the original, presumably Greek, Thomas. But we don't know, so we work with what do have.

Our friends in the Jesus Seminar have sorted the sayings into various categories. Not everybody likes the Jesus Seminar, and not everybody who likes the Jesus Seminar likes their voting system for exercises like this. But here's a run down of what we have, color coded by estimated authenticity, in a way that is basically parallel to your own three-category system.

www.webpages.uidaho.edu...

BTW, they do seem to manage to untangle "run together" Gnostic and possibly authentic passages. The verse numbering has been added later, after all. One need only ignore it, and take the work clause by clause.

As to dating, we can discuss theories of the "Kernel Thomas," possibly something very early indeed

forbiddengospels.blogspot.com...

but we agree in the end that what we hold in out hands today is not that kernel.

I have only a few specific points beyond the above. I disagree that the incipit necessarily claims authorship. It is no stronger than John 21: 24

This is the disciple (referring to a mention of the "Beloved disciple" in the preceding verse) who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

That doesn't say that the Gospel of John was written by the Beloved Disciple, it just claims some unspecified relationship to a writing made by the Beloved Disciple.

No authorship claim, no forgery.

I don't see a sola scriptura issue in giving substantial weight to the possibility of Thomas' authenticity, at least the kernel. There are all sorts of reasons to be interested in a historical Jesus other than adding to the deposit of faith. And, of course, for someone like me, those reasons loom especially large. Additional witnesses are welcome, I think.

Lurid as the words sound in English, there is no reason to suppose that secret, hidden or obscure sayings means anything other than words spoken face-to-face to someone by Jesus. Secretary preserves in modern language that sense of the word secret. Mark 4: 10 ff. attests to the existence of teachings "secret" in this sense. Containing such sayings cannot, then, be a barrier to canonical status.

Finally, I am in general agreement with DeConick that Thomas' problem in missing canonical status was that, even stripped of all Gnostic accretions, it presents problems for those who turned out to be the winning side. Your argument that they may have won because God was on their side is noted (from the earlier thread), but not necessarily fully conceded.

Personally, I think the deal killer is the tail end of block 113 (rated by the Jesus Seminar as pink, Jesus probably said something like this):

... the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it.

That present tense is a corker, in oh so many ways. Yes, I know, so for you, that is reason enough for Thomas not to be in the canon.

Anyway, it's a good thread. You know I'm a sucker for stuff like this.

-
edit on 5-3-2011 by eight bits because: errant keystrokes



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 09:54 AM
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reply to post by eight bits
 


Thanks, as always, for the insightful criticism, my friend!

As I recall, we have discussed Thomas and the Jesus Seminar analysis of the text in another thread quite a while ago, and my comment at the time was effectively the same as it is here -- additional true sayings of Christ are quite possible (likely, in my opinion,) but it is not possible to assuage what they might be, because the whole of the text is suspect for its intentional reframing of sayings to meet the expectation of the author's Gnostic audience. If I remember correctly, you did convince me to temper my original view that the text was spiritually valueless due to the taint, hence my (slightly
) revised view, presented here.

The problem that I have with the Jesus Seminar is that they have the stated belief that the Jesus of faith and the Jesus of history cannot be the same person. There were no miracles, no claim of divinity and no resurrection -- Jesus was a faith healer and itinerant philosopher, nothing more. That's fine, but that is going to result in a very different Jesus than the Christ of faith and a religion which is not Christianity (closer to Tindal's classic Deism than anything else.) And all of it is simply predicated on the basis that Jesus needs to conform to the non-supernatural -- there are no miracles, not because there were no miracles, but because there could not be.

I suspect that the reason that the Jesus Seminar is so keen on the Gospel of Thomas (the title of their first book, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus kind of betrays that) is that it fits with their claim that Jesus was nothing more than a philosopher and teacher.

Thanks for the link to DeConick's blog, I've done a bit of reading there, but she's way too much material to just skim through, so I'll bookmark it and spend some time looking through it later. As I said, there are scholars who dispute Thomas being a Gnostic specific text, and their arguments are not without merit. DeConick seems to be most centered on The Gospel of John being a refutation of, if not Thomas itself, then the thinking behind it, I've read that theory before, but I really have a hard time going along with it, as it seems a bit of a stretch, and seems to require the author to have modern notions about critical text. I have always seen John as being an intentional clarification of the Synoptic Gospels, most assuredly more focused on the spiritual side of Christ's story, but still in harmony with the other three.

While DeConick's notion of Thomas as being an evolutionary work is plausible, I don't see any real reason to conclude that it's valid, and a few reason to believe that it's not. For passages that are in common between Thomas and the Biblical texts, three possibilities seem most likely. First, the author of Thomas took text from the canonical Gospels and reworded them to make them less refined. This seems highly unlikely to me, as it presumes that the author would have the sense to know that, 1,900 years later, people would have developed the textural critical theories that would validate the revisions.

Or secondly, the authors of the Biblical Gospels used some version of Thomas as a source document for their sayings of Jesus. I'm not keen on this, either, for two reasons -- that there are sayings in Thomas that are likely things that Jesus would have said, but were not chosen, and because it seems unlikely that, if a kernel version Thomas was "Q" (or the equivalent) and considered valid for the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we would only have the Gnostic revision. If a prior version of the sayings that did not incorporate the Gnostic taint was in sufficient circulation to have been used by the four Gospels' authors, we'd expect to see references to it, if nothing else.

Finally, the most likely explanation, in my opinion, is simply that all authors used the same source document, which has now been lost. The author of Thomas, not interested in telling a narrative story, simply used the "raw text" without elaboration, while the others built out the texts in order to make them clearer.


Personally, I think the deal killer is the tail end of block 113 (rated by the Jesus Seminar as pink, Jesus probably said something like this):

... the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it.

That present tense is a corker, in oh so many ways. Yes, I know, so for you, that is reason enough for Thomas not to be in the canon.


Well, the whole of the saying is essentially another wording of a passage in Luke, so it did make it into canon:


Saying 113: His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"
"It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'here it is' or 'there it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."



Luke 17:20-21: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”


Luke is generally read two ways -- the first is that Christ is saying that the Kingdom of God is spiritual in nature and exhibited in the nature and actions of the faithful. My preferred view, though, is that Christ is giving a little jab at the Pharisees, saying "What are you waiting for? Here I am, among you today!"

The Gnostic view of the passage is likely related to the notion of the Divine Spark, that God was broken into pieces of divinity, and subsequently imprisoned in the bodies of the Gnostics, so it is spread out and most people are unaware of it.



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 01:55 PM
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Coincidentally, I have been discussing a miracle claim elsewhere lately. And statements like this of yours come up in such discussions:


And all of it is simply predicated on the basis that Jesus needs to conform to the non-supernatural -- there are no miracles, not because there were no miracles, but because there could not be.

I think the modern scholarly approach needn't be quite that sweeping. The doubt, I think, is about those specific miracles, Jesus' and his disciples' and Apostles', what we read about in the canonical Gospels and Acts, not necesarily all miracle claims everywhere and always.

The First Century ones haven't held up well. There is very little living belief in demons, much less that casting them out is an effective mechanism to relieve human suffering. Even taking the reports at face value, since we have seen similar things done by people whose godliness is seriously in doubt, it is difficult to find evidence of godliness there.

And face value cuts both ways. Jesus performs three raisings of others from the dead, and the Apostles have a few as well. Yet we know that even in recent times, people have been given up for dead by modern physicians, and lived to tell about it. See William Tebb's Premature Burial, and how it may be prevented (who says how-to books are boring?).

There's dead, and there's First Century dead. I'm thinking only the first one is necessarily permanent.

So, anyway, then there is Thomas. It has no story at all, and so no miracle stories. If Thomas demonstrates nothing else, it is a "proof of concept" that a miracle-free Jesus could still be a major spiritual influence.

At least we agree that that is part of the modern attraction, and especially among the Jesus Seminar Fellows
.

As to 113, I emphasized the tail because I think that that is where the problem was in that verse as regards canonical eligibility. The rest of the verse is unproblematic, I think, except for what it shares with the work as a whole, the claim that Jesus said this to his disciples.

The corresponding sayings are in Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 17, coincidentally the most relevant verses are all numbered in the 20's. I'll cite broadly, though, since the surrounding verses are important to what I have to say,

All three, like Thomas, are Jesus' answering somebody's question about when will the Kingdom come? (or words to that effect).

Mark and Matthew are very similar, and the warning against the Look!'s are tied to future, catasptrophic events. These are the end times, presumably, and the Return. Disciples ask Jesus the question privately, and Jesus answers them directly.

Luke you have discussed, but note that Jesus turns from the Pharisees and immediately thereafter gives directly to the disciples a parallel amplification of what he has just said.

Apart from being another canonical example of the "secret teaching" motif, the amplification is a future tense explanation, and similar to the other synoptics.

So, ironically, I agree with you that Luke may be saying that Jesus poked a little fun at the Pharisees' expense. But I am less confident than you that that was what really happened.

Personally, I think that Luke was reconciling two traditions, as you would expect in a Gospel based on research into what the traditions were. I think Luke is our witness to the existence of a Thomas-like version of the incident, a present tense answer. But where Thomas has the present tense as being the version told the disciples, Luke says "Oh no, that present tense was just for the Pharisees. The real story, the one he told directly to the disciples, is that the Kingdom lies in the future."

Easy for you to say that the one that made it into the canon is right. Harder for me, as I am sure you can appreciate.



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 02:10 PM
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reply to post by adjensen
 


Hi Adjensen,

this comment isn't directly related to the intrinsic content of your OP (I do not possess the necessary competence for that), but rather to the way its overall context is presented.

I would like to give you a great compliment on that account. If more perspectives were put forth this way, there would be considerably less meaningless confrontational polarizations.

By rather precisely having defined your aim, parameters and methodology from the start, practically all the usual pro- and anti-bible/christian arguments are made superfluous, and any criticism will have to be directly at your systematic methodology as a whole, instead of minor out-of-context digressions.

As I see it, your method is very similar to a formal presentation of logic/science (you take ot or leave it at its own ground, criticism can only be applied at philosophy-of-science/epistemology level) and that you furthermore abstain from any 'grand unifying theory' between science and theology/religion is another plus.

(Like you, I also have an almost allergic reaction to specified 'quantum'-religion, which produces maybe not a primal-screaming urge in me, but at least a primal-moaning desire).

When you get around to gnosticism, I hope to be able to join with some competence.



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 02:26 PM
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Just in case this is new to anyone:
A great site of writings (gospel and otherwise) over the years from the death of Christ. Leads up to about AD250. Worth looking up , all you learned scholars and theology folks!

www.earlychristianwritings.com...

Enjoy



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 02:42 PM
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reply to post by eight bits
 


It's probably against some natural law, but I actually agree with you on some points here. Not that I want to derail this excellent thread towards the interesting options you mention; I only for the time being show interest.

As to the content Ad's OP deserves whatever direct responses it can get, but for possible later use the 'whole' of it ofcourse raises some additional points, which you mention.

The question of if the (more or less) absolutes of a religious system can be justified by 'super-natural' anomalies*.

And that the inclusion of anomalies by themselves into a text doesn't justify the text per se. Just as an amount of correct historical (e.g. geographical) information in the text doesn't either.

And then you mention the possibility of a maybe more extended syncretism, than usually is acknowledged. I wouldn't know so much about the judeo-christian background on this, but there is a strong parallel in the more eastern versions of 'dualism' circling around for a long time; even meeting some of its own former (but changed) versions and re-merging with those.

(* 'Anomalogy' (when we get to inventing that word) is a subject of its own; not easily used as it is, because of a lacking western tradition).

edit on 6-3-2011 by bogomil because: spelling and clarification



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 05:57 PM
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Originally posted by eight bits
Coincidentally, I have been discussing a miracle claim elsewhere lately. And statements like this of yours come up in such discussions:


And all of it is simply predicated on the basis that Jesus needs to conform to the non-supernatural -- there are no miracles, not because there were no miracles, but because there could not be.

I think the modern scholarly approach needn't be quite that sweeping. The doubt, I think, is about those specific miracles, Jesus' and his disciples' and Apostles', what we read about in the canonical Gospels and Acts, not necesarily all miracle claims everywhere and always.


If we look back to the original Historical Jesus movement of 19th Century Germany, the motivation stemmed, in large measure, from the needs of the Liberal Theology crowd to reconcile scripture with reason, particularly in the light of scientific advances being made at the time. As a result, like the previous Diests, the Liberal movement began with the premise that there were no miracles, simply misstated or misinterpreted natural events.

So the Historical Jesus scholars applied the tools of modern historical research to find out who Jesus really was, and, not surprisingly, they found a Jesus who looked an awful lot like a 19th Century German Liberal Christian. I view the Jesus Seminar guys in much the same manner -- they are more likely to find a Jesus in scripture that meets their own characteristics, because they toss out the things that it's claimed he did that they personally think he could not have.


The First Century ones haven't held up well. There is very little living belief in demons, much less that casting them out is an effective mechanism to relieve human suffering. Even taking the reports at face value, since we have seen similar things done by people whose godliness is seriously in doubt, it is difficult to find evidence of godliness there.


I'm currently reading Barclay's commentary on the Gospel of Mark, and he makes some very interesting observations on Jesus' healing, and the state of Judaic demonology in the First Century. I haven't read enough to make a very lucid comment at the moment, but once I'm done, I may write something up.


So, anyway, then there is Thomas. It has no story at all, and so no miracle stories. If Thomas demonstrates nothing else, it is a "proof of concept" that a miracle-free Jesus could still be a major spiritual influence.


Right, and exactly what some people have been looking for since the 16th Century Deists.


Personally, I think that Luke was reconciling two traditions, as you would expect in a Gospel based on research into what the traditions were. I think Luke is our witness to the existence of a Thomas-like version of the incident, a present tense answer. But where Thomas has the present tense as being the version told the disciples, Luke says "Oh no, that present tense was just for the Pharisees. The real story, the one he told directly to the disciples, is that the Kingdom lies in the future."


Interesting idea, but I suppose that it all hinges on the interpretation of what "Kingdom of God" really means,and it would most assuredly mean two vastly different things for the mysticist Gnostic and the apocalyptic Christian. Arguably, they can both be satisfied with Luke, but only the former with Thomas.



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 06:09 PM
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Originally posted by bogomil
I would like to give you a great compliment on that account. If more perspectives were put forth this way, there would be considerably less meaningless confrontational polarizations.

By rather precisely having defined your aim, parameters and methodology from the start, practically all the usual pro- and anti-bible/christian arguments are made superfluous, and any criticism will have to be directly at your systematic methodology as a whole, instead of minor out-of-context digressions.


Thank you, sir, high praise indeed, and well appreciated.

My intention is not necessarily to change any minds (which is where much of the drama of ATS originates) but rather to inform interested persons in how the orthodox theology emerged, and why the church believed it to be the correct teaching. That might seem anti-paradoxical, but we must keep in mind that in 150AD, notions like the Trinity or Incarnation were still arguments waiting in the future.


When you get around to gnosticism, I hope to be able to join with some competence.


I debated putting it off, 'cause I'm really going to get creamed on it, and I've been spending time lately reading about early Christian asceticism, but thematically and within the timeline, the Gnostics are next, so get those knives sharpened up.



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 06:12 PM
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Originally posted by Lucius Driftwood
Just in case this is new to anyone:
A great site of writings (gospel and otherwise) over the years from the death of Christ. Leads up to about AD250. Worth looking up , all you learned scholars and theology folks!

www.earlychristianwritings.com...

Enjoy


Yes, Peter Kirby has an excellent resource there -- I've had it bookmarked since I stumbled across it about ten years ago. If I had a complaint, though, it would be that his index tends to "bury" prolific authors, and he clearly doesn't keep it up to date, as a number of off-site links lead to "Page not found" errors.

Lots to read and enjoy there, though, thanks for pointing it out.



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 06:26 PM
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reply to post by adjensen
 


You wrote:

["My intention is not necessarily to change any minds (which is where much of the drama of ATS originates) but rather to inform interested persons in how the orthodox theology emerged, and why the church believed it to be the correct teaching. That might seem anti-paradoxical, but we must keep in mind that in 150AD, notions like the Trinity or Incarnation were still arguments waiting in the future."]

Point taken, understood and used with good purpose. I actually learned something from your threads on this.

Quote: ["I debated putting it off, 'cause I'm really going to get creamed on it, and I've been spending time lately reading about early Christian asceticism, but thematically and within the timeline, the Gnostics are next, so get those knives sharpened up."]

With my present outlook, based on what you earlier have said on the subject and the two recent threads, I will most likely 'side' with you (inside your systematic methodology. Outside it we may have some cosmological and cosmogonic 'issues'.).



posted on Mar, 6 2011 @ 11:29 PM
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I apologize in advance because I know I don't write as well as adjenson. I'll take the opposing view here because I am one who believes this to be actual words the living Messiah Jesus spoke. Adjenson shows how he feels it doesn't line up with the established dogma and I'll attempt to show how with this particular gospel it in fact.... does.

Just so everyone knows the only thing scholars agree on regarding the "Gospel According to Thomas" is it:

A) was unearthed in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1946
B) was found along with 50 plus other texts, many of which are labeled as being Gnostic.

There is much more they don't agree on. Some scholars don't even think it's a gnostic text. They don't agree on who authored it. They can't even agree on when it was composed. There are two camps; early camp & the late camp.

The late camp thinks it was written around AD 140 but the early camp thinks it was written as early as AD 60. Anyone who is interested should really read the wiki entry on this gospel to get a better feel as to why there is so much disagreement and opposing views. With all that being said it's the content itself we should concern ourselves with.

Is it a heretical teaching or are these the words the Messiah spoke?

First off let's be real clear - I am not a gnostic. I don't believe the God of the OT is a lessor god and I don't think that matter is bad and I don't believe there is anything in the Gospel of Thomas that says matter is bad.

But ask yourselves this. If there is a God and he does impart knowledge, from a means beyond our control what would you call it? The word 'gnosis' means knowledge or to be spiritually enlightened. I believe it's the early Christians and how they believed that adjenson has an issue with and not a simple word. Just as there is good and bad people, surely there is some form of good gnosis from God Almighty.

"These are the secret sayings the living Jesus spoke"

Does God have secrets? Sure he does.

"The secret things belong to the LORD OUR GOD, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever" Deut 29:29

________________________________

Did God share secret things with his Son to impart to us? Sure he did.

"I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, thing from old" Psalm 78:2

_________________________________

Saying 1: And he said, "Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death."


Adjenson wants you to believe that Christ was saying salvation comes by the interpretation of these sayings, when in fact it simply means after one experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit - then and only then will these sayings make sense to you. Jesus says in Mark, Matthew and Luke, 'I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." Nobody seems to have a problem with that.

Not everyone will have the experience, only some. Some people can't stand to hear that there is some type of exclusive group when it comes to Jesus, but there is. Paul speaks of predestination and Jesus himself said the road to life is narrow and "few" find it.

Is it gnostic to want to be able to interpret correctly the narrow path to life? Is it gnostic to want to know why some will experience the kingdom of God before they die a physical death? If Thomas was a part of the canonical gospel I believe more would seek to know this experience of God's Spirit, so they could correctly interpret all the sayings and stories in the Bible.

______________________________

Saying 29: Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty."

Adjenson would have you to believe this has to do with duality, when all he is saying is "Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for NOTHING." John 6:63

_________________________________

Saying 108: Jesus said, "He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him."

Adjenson said, "Those who listen to the words of Christ and correctly discren how to be like him will find the secret knowledge."

No. The only way to attain the hidden things and Jesus to become a person and have everything revealed.... is for Jesus to come and live inside the person. Again, this is done through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It's not problematic when he says in John 14, that by loving him, the Father will return that love and him AND the Father will come and make their home with them.

Or what about in Revelation where Jesus says 'I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him and him with me."

The kingdom is within and the big secret is how they get inside you. It's through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is a process which is why the Thomas gospel (Lambdin translation) states:

"Jesus said, "Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All."

I prefer the Patterson, Meyer translation:

"Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and reign over all. [And after they have reigned they will rest.]"

If there is a God and he is supposed to come live inside you, and there is this internal process going on as it happens - what's so wrong with describing it as being disturbed or troubled??

If the process of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was being described in modern terms, we might say:

'Seek until you find. When you find you are probably going to freak out a bit, but then you will be amazed and know what it means to reign with Christ.'

We can go through all 114 sayings if need be.
edit on 6-3-2011 by Myrtales Instinct because: typos



posted on Mar, 7 2011 @ 04:17 AM
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bogomil

We disagree on some things, and agree on others. "If two make peace with each other in a single house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move from here!' and it will move." Thomas 48. (Blue; Jesus didn't say it, according to the Jesus Seminar, but the idea is similar to his.)

myrtales

The Jesus Seminar stands with adj here. Thomas 1, 29 and 108 all come up black ("Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.").

Maybe you're more Gnostic than you think
.

adjensen

Miracles Nevertheless, I am inclined to discuss these miracle claims on their own specific merits. These claims have not held up well. Whether or not other miracle claims have fared better doesn't help us much either way, does it?

Changing character of historical figures Yes, living folks sometimes see people of the remote past as if the ancients were "just like us," only with fewer appliances. That mistakes were made in our great-grandfathers' generation isn't much of a reason for us not to try to do better. At the very least, we can aspire to make different mistakes.

For those, criticize me as much as you will. For great-grandpa's mistakes? You missed your chance to take those up with him, and we've long since corrected them.

Gnostics had something in common with those who supplanted them


I suppose that it all hinges on the interpretation of what "Kingdom of God" really means,and it would most assuredly mean two vastly different things for the mysticist Gnostic and the apocalyptic Christian.

No, what I am saying is that Luke may be separate attestation of an early tradition that Jesus preached a "present tense" conception of the Kingdom. He did or he didn't. That's a separate question from what else Jesus preached about the Kingdom, and separate from how different groups might have received Jesus' preaching.


Arguably, they can both be satisfied with Luke, but only the former with Thomas.

And only the latter can be satisfied with the other synoptics. Luke is not neutral between the two traditions. What is told to the disciples, according to Luke, is the future-tense Kingdom. What is told to the disciples is the "real teaching." So, Luke has taken sides.

And what he has taken sides about, what I think is the real rub in verse 113, is whether there is a necessary role for any organized church. If the Kingdom is everywhere, for everybody, right now, then no. Nor is there anything else in Thomas that recommends organization, not for missionary work, not for administration of rituals, not for regular attendance at meetings, ...

Since the Gnostics were no less interested than the eventual-orthodox in maintaining dues-supported membership organizations, I don't think verse 113 had many friends, just many different ways of reconciling what it says with what different readers wanted to do instead.

Luke marginalized the present-tense tradition, clearing the way for the elephants to wrestle over what kind of church, or "school," or whatever other kind of human organization there would be, having settled whether there would be an organization at all.

Turns out we all need somebody to look after us while we're waiting for that future-tense Kingdom to come along, and to manage some of our spare cash in the bargain.There's no place for something like Thomas in that organization's canon.

-
edit on 7-3-2011 by eight bits because: I like it better this way



posted on Mar, 7 2011 @ 08:33 AM
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reply to post by Myrtales Instinct
 


Hi Myrtales Instinct, thanks for the insightful feedback! As I wrote in my OP, there is most definitely dissension on whether Thomas is a Gnostic text or not, but I don't think that I've seen too many scholars denying that it represents a different underlying philosophy from orthodox Christianity -- Greek dualism. How it got there, whether this is Gnostic, Marcion, Syriac or something else, that's what is unknown.

If we go bit by bit through it, we will find that, if we take a purely orthodox stance, there will be a struggle to reconcile some passages, but if we recognize the Greek influence, those passages require no deep insights -- they're pretty clear. That, I imagine, is the tact taken by the Jesus Seminar, as EightBits points out, in throwing out those sayings -- Jesus didn't say them, because they contain philosophical notions that developed later, or came from another tradition that is contrary to Judaism.

One other thing to remember is that the Church fathers had access to Thomas, but it is not a part of canon, and most references to it are refutations, and we have to assume that they had their own reasons for rejecting it. Nefarious reasons? Perhaps, but I think more likely due to the problems that I cite in the OP -- the forgery, the Gnostic influences, and the non-widespread circulation.

As for "hidden knowledge", understand that I'm coming at this from a Protestant perspective, but I believe that there are two ways of looking at it. The Gnostic view is that the hidden knowledge which is necessary for salvation has been intentionally hidden from us by the divine, and we need another Gnostic to educate us in the truth. My reading of the bits in the Bible that talk about hidden knowledge is not that it is hidden by God, but that we intentionally hide it from ourselves. We willingly "do not understand", and that's what is hidden.

Yes, God has knowledge that we do not have (arguably hidden from us,) but it is not anything necessary for our salvation. We need faith in Christ, nothing more. If we are open to understanding him, and his message, we need no "masters" or "gurus" or "priests" to save us.



posted on Mar, 7 2011 @ 09:05 AM
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reply to post by eight bits
 



And what he has taken sides about, what I think is the real rub in verse 113, is whether there is a necessary role for any organized church. If the Kingdom is everywhere, for everybody, right now, then no. Nor is there anything else in Thomas that recommends organization, not for missionary work, not for administration of rituals, not for regular attendance at meetings, ...


Well, you can imagine the issue that I have with this.
On the one hand, yes, I agree that the church is not a requirement for salvation (apart from the sticky issue of the Sacrament of Baptism and, possibly, the Eucharist), but on the other hand, I have personally made my attempt to give it a go without said community, and that didn't work out so well. I suspect that the difference is between "church" (as exemplified by the overarching organization we see today) and "community", which is the "when two or three are gathered in my name" bit.

But, again, what is meant by Kingdom here? Here's a nice reference from (of course) Methodist theologian Georgia Harkness: Understanding the Kingdom of God. In Chapter Three, Harkness finds three variations (in the Bible, not in Thomas):


In the first sense, the kingdom of God means the eternal, ultimate sovereignty of God. In this sense kingship would be a more accurate term.

..snip..

A second meaning of the term is the rule of God among men insofar as this sovereignty is accepted and God’s will is done. Although God is eternally king of the universe, including that very important part of it which is humanity, he has given us the freedom to reject this authority and follow our own disobedient desires. The kingdom is present wherever God’s will is accepted and obeyed, and we may enter the kingdom wherever we are by giving him our loyalty. Since this is far from universal, we pray, "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth."

A third meaning of the kingdom is the complete and final establishment of God’s rule in the age to come, a final consummation in which God’s will is fully done. This could come about by a long process of change, a gradual movement toward a fuller personal loyalty and a more Christian society on earth. The more common biblical understanding of it, however, is of a day of the Lord and a final judgment whereby only the righteous will receive a place in God’s eternal kingdom, though there are hints also of an ultimate cosmic redemption through Christ.

To sum up the relation of each of these concepts to human history, the first places the kingdom of God above history; the second within it; the third at the end, or beyond the end, of history.

.. snip ..

I believe that Jesus thought of the meaning of the kingdom in all these senses, though with no sharp differentiation among them. The biblical records lend support to all these meanings.


So, with that interpretation in mind, it seems that both the first and second meanings can be seen as a "present tense" Kingdom, within the confines of Orthodox theology, and the third represents the "future tense", which Liberal theology tosses out, because of the issues that they have with whether Christ really held an apocalyptic eschatology. If you're not open to the supernatural, no one can know the future.

But, again, I think that Thomas' specific wording, though it can be wedged into one of those meaning Harkness cites, more easily can be viewed in the sense of the Divine Spark.
edit on 7-3-2011 by adjensen because: Clarification



posted on Mar, 7 2011 @ 12:37 PM
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adjensen

By "church," I meant an ecumenical-scale network of autonomous bishops, each with his clerical cadre and a local lay popular constituency. I think being robustly organized, and better organized than your opposition, is second only to having God on your side as an explantion for why Christianity survived the Empire to run it.


But, again, I think that Thomas' specific wording, though it can be wedged into one of those meaning Harkness cites, more easily can be viewed in the sense of the Divine Spark.

You like that Divine Spark a lot better than I do
. You see it in more places, too.

I think verse 113 is simple. It says that the Kingdom is present, on earth, and ubiquitous. It is not something to anticipate, because it is already here, and it is not something you look for in one place rather than another, because it is everywhere on earth. That would be on earth as opposed to being adrift in some ethereal cosmos.

That "people" generally do not see reality as it is expresses an idea which is older than Gnosticism. It is at the foundation of the religious impulse, or even of some non-religious metaphysical impulses.

And what prevents people from seeing this? Not the demiurge making an illegal U-turn in the pleroma. Real reality isn't "higher," according to 113, it's right here. People don't see it because they expect to see something else instead. I think Jesus might be on to something
.

There's just no special comfort for Gnostics in 113, nor anything peculiar to Gnosticism. There's no prize for their having accommodated 113; they accommodated a lot of generic things. That divine spark is a very adaptable little notion.

Maybe Thomas was just a Protestant before his time. No earthly imtermediaries, accept what is directly offered by Jesus, come and get it? Great ideas for the Sixteenth Century or so; might not have gotten you through the Fourth, though. Just my opnion.

-
edit on 7-3-2011 by eight bits because: it's full of stars



posted on Mar, 7 2011 @ 01:01 PM
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Originally posted by eight bits
adjensen

By "church," I meant an ecumenical-scale network of autonomous bishops, each with his clerical cadre and a local lay popular constituency. I think being robustly organized, and better organized than your opposition, is second only to having God on your side as an explantion for why Christianity survived the Empire to run it.


Well, it almost certainly caused a lot of problems, as well. The whole point of the first Ecumenical Council in 325 was to reign in some of the errant bishopric elements that had developed in the free-for-all of the early Church. It is somewhat comparable to the Congregationalist churches today -- there probably aren't many Baptists who don't cringe at the mention of Westboro Baptist, but with a Congregationalist Polity, they can't do much of anything about them.

I would guess that most, if not all, of these early heresies arose within an existing congregation, and it is demonstrable that the very early Church had the authority to give the boot to heretics, but in both of Paul's letters to the Corinthians, and, even more so, to the Galatians, it is clear that self-governance all too often led to internal conflict that tore the congregations apart. In Paul's time, the lack of Scripture and doctrinal teaching was a real problem, no doubt, even in some seemingly minor issues.

Not unlike the situation today, sadly -- although today we do have scripture and doctrine... we just choose to ignore it.



posted on Mar, 8 2011 @ 12:05 AM
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You know, I am very thankful that I live in a day and age where I can choose if I want to be a part of a collective view or not. Some of you seem to not have an issue with it and that is your right.. Your collective views give you a false platform to judge how I believe without even taking into consideration why I believe.

I'm also thankful that all of us didn't live during a time period where we had to hide and bury texts. I wonder what happened to someone if they got caught with the Thomas text or the Philip text??

Mans ways are not God's ways, so collective views aside I'm here to defend something I truly believe in. The only true teacher who can guide a person into truth on any biblical matter is the Holy Spirit. There isn't a seminar or a council out there that trumps his Spirit. To help me make my point, that Thomas isn't heretical and has value, let us look at sayings 23 and 62.

Saying 23 Jesus said, "I shall choose you, one from a thousand and two from ten thousand, and they will stand as a single one."

Again, we are back to talking about an exlcusive group of people. The math speaks for itself on the matter of how exclusive this group is. The purpose of the group is to stand as one. First we have to ask is it biblical? Once we establish that it is we'll need to know HOW it is he chooses.

Is it biblical? Sure is.

"Return, faithless people," declares the LORD, "for I am your husband. I will choose you--one from a town and two from a clan--and bring you to Zion." Jeremiah 3:14

How he chooses a person is found in the first word of this verse "Return". If God is saying "Return, faithless people" he is telling you to repent.

Saying 62. Jesus said, "I disclose my mysteries to those [who are worthy] of [my] mysteries.

The way one repents determines how worthy you are of the mysteries. The first command we get from Jesus after his water baptism was to repent. Doing it correctly opens the door. This is not heresy this is a fact. The perks of repentance far outweigh, the trials and tribulations we go through. Do it right and you will then understand, the mystery of marriage and why it is that God so often calls himself our husband.



posted on Mar, 8 2011 @ 05:10 AM
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reply to post by adjensen
 


S&F


Second Peter is almost universally held to have been written by someone other than Peter


It's the other way around. 1 Peter was written by a paid "ready writer" (Amanuensis) which was a common practice in the day. 1 Peter is very polished Greek. Peter wrote 2 Peter himself without the services of his "ready writer", it's Greek is very rough. Silvanus was Peter's "amanuensis".


: one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript


Amanuensis




edit on 8-3-2011 by NOTurTypical because: (no reason given)



posted on Mar, 8 2011 @ 01:40 PM
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reply to post by Myrtales Instinct
 


I'm sorry if you're taking offense at my position, as that is not my intent. If you find value in The Gospel of Thomas, as regards your spiritual self, that's great.

Given that Thomas is not a part of scriptural canon, and there are people today who wonder about it, or who think it might have been included at one time, and was removed, and my intent is to demonstrate, not the "right" or "wrong" of Thomas, but the problems that the orthodox church had with it, and still has to this day. It was not excluded from canon arbitrarily (most likely -- if it was relatively unknown at the time, it might have been,) but for the reasons that I cite in the OP and follow ups.

From the Orthodox point of view, which is both mine and that of the Second Century church, there is no argument, just as there was no argument from Marcion when he excluded the Old Testament and all non-Pauline documents of the New Testament for his own perspective's canon.

So, if you will, consider this an historical endeavour with theological overtones, rather than a theological endeavour with a historical bent. And, again, apologies for any offense -- none was intended.





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