In this series, we are looking at the non-canonical gospel accounts of Jesus’ life. While not considered scripture, they can give us a look at what different early Christians taught and believed about Jesus.
The Gospel of Thomas
The gospel of Thomas was first discovered in 1945 with a large group of gnostic papyri near Nag Hammadi, Egypt. It’s a book of 114 “sayings of Jesus”. About 65% of these saying are found in the 4 canonical Gospels.
The document found at Nag Hammadi was dated to around 340 A.D. Scholars have suggested dates as early as 60 A.D., to as late as 180 A.D for the original authorship of the document. The most reliable estimates are between 130 A.D. and 180 A.D. This would align it with other gnostic writings we know of at the time.
Who wrote the gospel of Thomas? We don’t have a clear answer. It is universally accepted that the Disciple Thomas was not the author. The gospel appears too late in history to have been written by one of the original disciples.
The most likely authors were Coptic gnostic Christians. The reason we think this is because many of the sayings in the document echo the Gnostic teachings of the time. The papyrus opens with the words “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke, and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down”.
Why Was It Rejected?
There are several reasons the gospel of Thomas is not included in the New Testament cannon. As mentioned above, the date of authorship shows that it was clearly not written by a disciple or close associate of a disciple of Jesus. It appears much too late in history for the authorship to have been authentically attributed to Thomas.
Secondly, it was rejected by early Church fathers as being inauthentic. Eusebius, Origen and Hippolytus all referred to it as heretical. They all recognized the gnostic bent to the text of the document.
The opening of the document is telling. Anytime we hear things like “Secret sayings of Jesus”, it is a clue that the text was written by Gnostics. Gnostics believed (and continue to believe) that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient to save us. They believe that there is this “secret knowledge” that is required for salvation. If you are not taught the knowledge these groups possess, then you’re not saved. You can see how this would be rejected by classical Christians who rightly understand our salvation comes through trust in Jesus alone.
What Does The Gospel Tell Us About The Real Jesus?
The gospel gives very few details about Jesus Himself. It is not a “life of” type of gospel. We do get confirmation of other Biblical persons such as John the Baptist, The Apostles Thomas, James the Just, Peter, Matthew, Mariam and Salome. But beyond that, there is little additional credible information about Jesus.
As with all of the non-canonical gospels we’ll be looking at, the gospel of Thomas offers us some insights into the people who wrote it, but very little about the actual historical Jesus.
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