The Gospel of Thomas
An introduction

"113. His disciples said to him, "When will the Father's imperial rule come?" "It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or "Look, there!' Rather, the Father's imperial rule is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it.."
St. Davids - Men's Bible Study - 8:00 - 9:00 am on Wednesdays in the Tatanga Mani Room.
Background on Holy Manners Holy Manners The background on the phrase and why we have adopted it. The guidelines for our studies.
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The Internet Reference Collection Research Page for this study
   relevant articles/sites to background, and supplement the book.

Article Count to date:  15                     Last change: 22 Jan 06
  A Study on the Gospel of Thomas - Notes    Last change: 13 Jan 06
THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS: Annotated and Explained Translation and Annotation by Stevan Davies Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT. $22.00 Cdn. 2002. ISBN #1-893361-45-4.
This winter, the people who gather at St. Davids church every Wednesday morning for bible study are doing something a bit different. We are studying a non-canonical book of the New Testament - namely the Gospel of Thomas. Of course, we are always ready to welcome new members to our group! Just show up in the TM room, any Wednesday at 8:00 AM!

We are engaging Thomas in his own right and by association (through similar texts) with the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the distinctive gospel of John. Our hope is to see how Thomas helps us broaden and deepen our understanding of Jesus. We are not interested in advocating a special place for Thomas as part of a revised biblical canon. We want to shun rivalries between Thomas and other gospels. Rather, we wish to focus on both the distinctives and the complementarity existing between the classic gospels we know and one we do not.
This study is not intended to be a clear guide to Thomas. To make Thomas unambiguously clear is to spoil him. This study is not an attempt to advocate for the admission of the Gospel of Thomas into the New Teatament canon. Thomas will probably have a greater impact if he never becomes part of the offical New Testament collection.

Thomas is an enigmatic and not an easily understood book. And that is exactly what he is intended to be. The reader needs to seek and to find meanings in the text. When this occurs the finder will be both ądisturbed and astonishedą (Saying 2, page 3). The Gospel of Thomas was written for truth-seekers who are willing to work to become finders.

Scholars have known of the existence of the Thomas gospel for centuries, but the book always languished with a guilty reputation because of its association with heretical texts that were not accepted into the offical biblical canon during the early evolution of Christian orthodoxy. This process of doctinal development and defining the true faith began in the first few centuries of the Christian era and continues to this day.

Orthodox Christianity consigned much of what it could not abide and gave it the dismissive term - gnostic (or heretical) writings. We have come to see that there never was an actual gnostic Christian church per se. There were only sets of writings that true Christians were told not to read because their contents were deemed untrue by orthodox authorities.

Surprizingly, after many centuries,  the fortunes of the Gospel of Thomas took a turn for the better when a complete copy in Coptic translation turned up at Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt, in 1945. All the other texts in this magnificant discovery - the most significant for New Testament studies in the 20th century - were of the gnostic garden variety (eg. the Gospel of Philip, the Gospels of Mary, etc). But Thomas was not like the others.

Scholars such as Elaine Pagels, who popularized Nag Hammadi in a book entitled The Gnostic Gospels, (1979) helped us to begin making a distinction between Thomas and the other books in this significant find. It has taken 60 years for the value of this discovery to be recognized by many folk who do not claim to be biblical scholars and specialists. Now, our time has come!

Thomas encourages his readers to seek and find the secrets inherent in the sayings. In so-doing, however, we must discern a personal meaning - not some official teaching - from the text. It is important to recognize that, unlike the biblical writers, Thomas encourages a personal, not an orthodox truthquest.
Thomas Is Different

Thomas is different, more basic and more primitively original than the New Testament gospels commonly known to us. Like the collected sayings of many great teachers of the past this book provides no background narrative or storyline. Just sayings.

Thomas is a collection of statements (150 in all, contained in 114 verses). About half of these sayings also appear (in nuanced fashion) in the biblical synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  Many scholars believe that an original, though non-available source for the synoptics called Quelle, or Q was probably written in much the same format as Thomas. While the contents of Q and Thomas are undoubtedly quite different, both were probably basic collections of Jesusą sayings.

Unquestionably, a new and different kind of Christianity is portrayed in Thomas. His verses are meant to be read carefully, saying by saying, to allow the meaning of the entire collection to build gradually and cumulatively.

Why was Thomas not admitted to the official New Testament canon? We donąt know the answer. Nor do we know what canonical criteria were used to admit or reject orthodox books. It is quite possible that those charged with the official process of inclusion and exclusion were ignorant of the existence of the Thomas gospel.
Thomas Represents a Major Addition to Our Understanding of Who Jesus Was and What He Taught

One thing is quite apparent about the Gospel of Thomas. Unlike the formulation of the synoptic gospels, Thomas represents a direct oral transmission to text. He is closer to the original form of the gospel message proclaimed by Jesus. What we read in Thomas  - taken together - is more likely to be accurate sayings of Jesus than those with parallels in the official New Testament.

Thomas represents a primitive Christian tradition that existed some time before the emergence of the community that created the gospel writings with which we are familiar. The Thomas tradition need not be considered competition to the one we came to know first. Rather, we can celebrate it as a exciting and helpful complement to it!

Thomas is important because he provides us with a living and vital new source for who Jesus was and what he taught. He is a refreshing addition after almost 2,000 years of Christian history!
Group Facilitator. Wayne Holst

I spent most of my life thinking like a church professional, rather than as a regular congregational member. My training as a pastor always had me asking myself 'how can I apply this discovery, insight, new information to a regular church setting?'

Often, clergy have been hesitant to share the discoveries they have made through a 'critical' approach to the Bible with their parishoners because they wonder how laypeople might accept it. I have found that many thinking laity are professionals in their own fields of endeavour and understand a critical approach very readily. What they seek are ways of relating faith to daily living.

I am grateful for the journey I have been taking through ordained ministry to teaching at the university and serving as a fellow layperson at St.David's United Church. Here we find that questioning and honest expression of our faith and doubt is readily accepted and supported.


jan 2006