Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Against Heresies II: The Gospel of Thomas

A. Overview
This is the second in a series of articles refuting the heresies that threaten orthodox Christianity. In this article, I review the Gospel of Thomas, the first of the Gnostic Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels are part of the Gnostic Texts, which also include the Nag Hammadi scrolls and other writings. The Gospel of Thomas is among the most prominent of the Gnostic Gospels, and is prototypical of the other heretical gospels, in that it portrays a picture of a Jesus who strays significantly from the way God had revealed Himself to the Jewish people historically.
According to the Jewish Scriptures, God intervened in the affairs of man throughout history. From his command to Adam not to eat of the forbidden tree, to the Ten Commandments given to Moses, to the prophecies given to Elijah, Isaiah, Joel, Jeremiah, to Ezekiel, God always speaks in clear, unambiguous terms. The mystical, abstruse words ascribed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas stray significantly from this tradition.

B. God’s Words in the Jewish Scriptures Compared with those of the Gospel of Thomas
Throughout the Jewish Scriptures, God speaks in clear terms about right and wrong, about justice and fairness, and about Israel’s sins and need for repentance.
“'Return to me,' declares the LORD Almighty, 'and I will return to you,' says the LORD Almighty. Do not be like your forefathers, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.'” (Zec 1:3-6). His words are clear and sobering.
When God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, he does not give a list of mystical teachings, but hard and fast rules. “You shall have no other gods before me … You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below … You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God …” (Exo 20:3-7). He similarly instructs on the weightier matters of the law in the Book of Isaiah: “learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isa 1:17).
Similarly, when bringing Israel back into repentance, he is clear and direct: “’I have loved you,’ says the LORD. ‘But you ask, “How have you loved us?” ‘Was not Esau Jacob's brother?’ the LORD says. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob’” (Mal 1:2).

Contrast the nature and character of this God, who speaks clearly to Israel, with the character of Jesus painted in the Gospel of Thomas, reproduced fully below. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus gives no hard and fast commands on repentance, on the need to turn back to God, on holiness, on justice. He instead speaks in metaphors and with mystical expressions that elude common understanding.
Some of his sayings—e.g., “When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty” (v. 3)—sound more like excerpts from a self-help book written by Deepok Chopra than the words of love of a God who became man.
Among the sayings from which I, after much effort, am unable to derive any discernible meaning are the following:
- “The person old in days won't hesitate to ask a little child seven days old about the place of life, and that person will live” (v. 4);
- “Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human” (v. 7);
- “During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?” (v. 11);
- “No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being” (v. 12);
- “If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves, and if you pray, you will be condemned, and if you give to charity, you will harm your spirits” (v. 14);
- “His disciples said, ‘When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?’ Jesus said, ‘When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample then, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid’” (v. 37).
Many other examples can be found below.

Compare these esoteric sayings with Jesus’ life-giving words in the canonical Gospels:
- “You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat 5:43-48);
- “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mat 6:19-21).
- “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luk 14:11);
- “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” (Joh 8:7).
- “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Mat 16:26).
- “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Mat 7:12).

Christ’s words, as recorded in the canonical Gospels, cultivate virtue, love, and holiness. Christ’s words, as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas, cultivate confusion, doubt, and rebellion against God.

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