The Gospel of Thomas – What is it?
The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings written in Coptic and discovered in the Nag Hammadi collection of documents in Egypt in 1945, known as the Gnostic gospels. Because it claims to be sayings from Jesus collected by the apostle Thomas, the discovery led to much attention, including claims that it was a lost gospel.
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A look at the Gospel of Thomas reveals that it includes a much different structure than the biblical Gospels. It consists of 114 sayings introduced by the statement, "These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down." This focus on "hidden words" or a secret message was common among the Gnostic writings that focused on enlightenment and hidden wisdom.
Part of the reason the Gospel of Thomas may have been hidden for many centuries is due to the response of the early church to its message. The early church leader Eusebius (who wrote the first major history of the church in the fourth century) considered it a fictional, heretical account, in agreement with other church leaders of his time.
Despite its differing message with the biblical Gospels, the Gospel of Thomas appears to have been composed at a very early stage of church history. Most scholars argue that it was composed in the early to mid-second century, especially since it was quoted in another writing dated to about AD 185. The Gospel of Thomas's seemingly intentional contrasts with the New Testament Gospel of John help to date it after the composition of John, which is usually dated in the 80s or 90s.
Part of the fascination with the Gospel of Thomas appears to be the mix of New Testament ideas with additional ideas resembling mystical teachings. Many verses sound similar to a New Testament reference with a slight twist. For example, even Saying 114 seems to take a very negative view of women, while the New Testament clearly holds a highly positive view of women (Galatians 3:28).
The Gospel of Thomas was not accepted by the early church as coming from Thomas nor as being authoritative for churches. 1,900 years later, we can look back and find value in the Gospel of Thomas as a historical writing, but do not look at it as Scripture. There is no secret gospel or lost book of the Bible. The Word of God is true, complete, and sufficient to equip God's people (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 4:11-12).
The Gnostic gospels – What are they?
The Gospel of Barnabas – What is it?
The Gospel of Judas – What is it?
The Gospel of Mary (Magdalene) – What is it?
The Gospel of Philip – What is it?
Truth about the Bible