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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Doubting the Gospel of Thomas




While involved in internet argumentation in another forum over the weekend, the subject of the so-called "Gospel of Thomas" came up. Usually such canards as this are propagated by skeptics and unbelievers in a vain attempt to discredit Holy Scripture in sort of an "Ah-hah, Gotcha!" moment by suggesting that other written gospels exist that are in some way comparable to the widely accepted Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The story usually goes that such writings were on the same par as the synoptic Gospels along with that of John, however due to some sort of "embarrasing information" contained in them, they were later suppressed in order to maintain the uniformity of the other gospel accounts.

When Wayne Jackson of the Christian Courier was presented with the idea that the Gospel of Thomas was somehow "authentic", he had this to say about it...

"Authentic”? In what sense? Certainly not “authentic” in the sense that the “Gospel of Thomas” carries the same credibility as the canonical Gospel records Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is considerable evidence that the document that is called the “Gospel of Thomas” was not authored by the apostle who bore that name.

What are the facts relative to this ancient text that has caused such a sensation in recent years?"

Compiled in the Second Century

"In 1945, an archaeological excavation at Nag Hammadi in Central Egypt yielded a collection of 13 papyrus codices (books) totaling over 1,100 pages. One of these contained the “Gospel of Thomas” in the Coptic language. In this form it dates from about A.D. 350.

However, the original work apparently is older since three Greek papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection (c. A.D. 150) contain fragments of the narrative. It is thus believed that the original “Gospel of Thomas” was compiled about A.D. 140, probably in Edessa, Syria. Some scholars push the date a little later (A.D. 150-200).

There is no evidence that this work existed in the first century, even though those associated with the bogus “Jesus Seminar” so allege."

Yes indeed Mr Jackson. And in support of this information, Dr. Craig Evans (PhD) of Acadia University had this to say about the later dating of Thomas. When told that "John Dominic Crossan says that the current text emerged about 60 or 70 [A.D.], but that an earlier edition goes back as far as the 50's. If they're right, that means that Thomas has really early material. Are they wrong?" Dr. Evans replied...

"They're wrong for several reasons," he said.... Thomas has too much New Testament in it. Not only that, Thomas doesn't have any early pre-Synoptic material. Thomas has forms that reflect the later developments in Luke and Matthew... Matthew and Luke sometimes improve upon Mark's grammer and word choice. Mark is not real polished in Greek grammer and style, while Matthew and Luke are much more so. And in the Gospel of Thomas we find these more polished Matthew and Luke forms of the sayings of Jesus. So Thomas isnt referring to earlier Mark, but to the later Matthew and Luke. We also find references to the special material that's found only in Matthew and only in Luke, both of which scholars think is later, not earlier.

And Thomas has material from the Gospel of John. How can Thomas be written in the 50's and 60's but still have Johannine material that doesn't get written down till the 90's?"

And this is just the beginning of the problems for Thomas. Mr. Jackson next brings up...

Beware of “secret sayings”

“Thomas” consists of a collection of 114 “sayings of Jesus,” that are supposed to be a “secret” revelation the Lord gave to the apostle Thomas. That “secret” business itself ought to be a red flag!

Some of these sayings repeat the words of Christ from the canonical Gospel accounts. About 40 of them are entirely new. Most scholars believe that the “Gospel of Thomas” is significantly contaminated with the ancient heretical philosophy known as Gnosticism (Cameron, p. 539)."

Dr. Evans describes the concept of salvation in Thomas thusly...

"Salvation is not perhaps exactly the way it is in the other Gnostic texts, but it's pretty close... It comes from self-knowledge, from understanding oneself authentically, and recognizing where one fits into the cosmos, as well as repudiating and not getting caught up with this world. So it's slightly Christian, slightly Old Testament, slightly Gnostic."

Anybody with even a passing familiarity with the New Testament knows that this is not the process of salvation described there.

Next, Jackson moves on to...

Absurdities

"Occasionally, some very absurd language is put into the Lord’s mouth by means of this document. Here is an example:

Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary (Magdalene) go out from among us, because women are not worthy of the Life.”

Jesus said: “See I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Saying 114, Funk, p. 532; see also Yamauchi, p. 186).

Does that even remotely resemble the dignified status that women are afforded in the New Testament?"

Could a skeptic cite a reference in any of the four Gospels that resembles this? Of course not! The whole thing is a sham. Jackson goes on to state..

The “Gospel of Thomas” — An Apparent Fraud

R.K. Harrison has well noted that this apocryphal work “cannot in any sense be called a ‘fifth gospel’” (Blaiklock & Harrison, p. 450). It is readily apparent that the so-called Gospel of Thomas has no place in the inspired canon, and history has been correct in rejecting it – some modern “scholars” to the contrary notwithstanding.

There are, however, two important points to be made in this connection.

1. The dependence of the “Thomas” upon the canonical Gospel records clearly indicates that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were recognized as the authoritative sources of information regarding Jesus of Nazareth.

2. The fact that the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were available to a writer in Syria, in the mid-second century A.D., is dramatic evidence of the widespread distribution of the sacred documents in the early years of Christian history.

Let's back up for a minute. Dr. Evans gives us some background information concerning the "Syria" reference.

"If you read Thomas in Greek or Coptic, it looks like the sayings arent in any particular order. It appears to be just a random collection of of what Jesus supposedly said. But if you translate it into Syriac, something extremely interesting emerges. Suddenly, you discover more than 500 Syrian catchwords that link virtually all the 114 sayings in order to help people memorize the gospel. In other words, Saying 2 is followed by Saying 3 because Saying 2 refers to a certain word that's then contained in Saying 3. And Saying 3 contains a certain word that leads you into Saying 4. It was a memorization aid."

Why is this significant? Dr. Evans explains...

"There was a guy named Tatian, a student of Justin Martyr, who created a written harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the year 175. It's called the Diatessaron which means, "through the four". What he did was blend all four Gospels together and present it in Syriac. So the first time Syrian-speaking Christians had access to the Gospels was not as seperate Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but as the blended, harmonized form. In blending together the sayings of the four Gospels, Tatian created created some new forms, because it was part Matthew, part Luke and so forth. Here's the clincher, those distinctive Syrian forms show up in the Gospel of Thomas."

Ding-ding-ding-ding! And on it goes. The next time someone brings up this little hodgepodge of Gnosticism and absudities and tries to present it as anything other than the complete theological disaster that it is, just hit them up with the FACTS. Anyone who would argue from positions advanced by the Jesus Seminar purposefully begins from a starting point that accepts their agenda which is driven by personal biases, not real evidence.

Note: all occurances of emphasis above appear in the text that is cited.

The interview with Dr. Evans is from The Case For The Real Jesus by Lee Strobel, (2007), Zondervan





16 comments:

feeno said...

Nice work and some of the info is helpful.

late, feeno

Tristan D. Vick said...

Interesting that Evans applies such scrutiny to the Gospel of Thomas but not the Synoptics.

He makes a few mistakes too. But I think I'll work on a much more elaborate reply to this post on my blog. I'll need a few weeks to write my response.

That said, I don't agree with all of Evans comments. Some are not supported--and some are contradicted by better authorities on the Gnostic tradition than he is. Also he nurtures a healthy bias against Gnosticism because it conflicts with his Christian convictions.

What really tipped me off to his confirmation bias was when he states that it wasn't even written by the Apostle whose name it bears. Well, no shit Sherlock! None of the Gospels were either!

It's all down hill from there.

Gregg said...

Excellent post! However, internal, external, and church history differs with Tristan D Vick. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John certainly did write their gospel.

Evans rightly scrutinized the alledged "Gosepl According to Thomas" since there are those who are purporting it to be accurate. The gospels have long been accepted as canonical and the purpose of the article wasn't to scrutinize them.

JD Curtis said...

I don't agree with all of Evans comments. Some are not supported

Like what?

some are contradicted by better authorities on the Gnostic tradition than he is

For example?

he nurtures a healthy bias against Gnosticism because it conflicts with his Christian convictions

Please differentiate between nuturing "a healthy bias against Gnosticism because it conflicts with his Christian convictions" with pointing out Gnoticism and Gnosticism like writings have appeared in these extra biblical texts that you cite and pointing out that this is not what is contained in the synoptic Gospels at all.

his (Evans's) confirmation bias

Sweet Mother of Pearl! Exactly who are these "experts" that you are citing?

I make a motion that we take off the table any so-called "expert" that is even loosely affiliated with the highly dicredited "Jesus Seminar". Should you want to know why, simply click on the link embedded in the text up above.

The Catholic Apologist said...

Hi JC,

Unfortunately I was trained under the liberal Scripture Scholarship so popular in Catholic academic circles. Thus I learned all about "J,E,P,D" and the "Q" Source, and "Special M Material and Special L Material" and how Mark was written first, Matthew and Luke plagerized Mark and included material from "Q" etc.

Becasue of this I am not familiar with the better scholarship which defends the priority of Matthew and refutes the notion of "Q" etc. If you have any books you might recommend, I would be much appreciated.

In any case- come on! Anyone with passing familiarity with Church history, the New Testament, etc- would not be fooled that the Church somehow "supressed" other gospels. The only people that would buy that nonsense- obviously have absolutely no familiariety with anything Christian. I don't even think the subject is worth treating- it is Divinci Code clap trap.

Froggie said...

Gregg,
"Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John certainly did write their gospel."

None of the writers of the gospels identify themselves. They weren't named until around 300CE.
The Gospel of Matthew contains 662 verses.
612 of those are from Mark, mostly in the same order.

It is interesting to note that Matthew removes or modifies some verses. Some are redundant, some with unusual words, and changes some passages in Mark's gospel that put Jesus in a bad light.
Matt removed the comment that Jesus "is out of his mind" in Mark 3:21. He also removed "do you not care" from Mark 4:38.

Froggie said...

Also, in the first chapter of Luke, the author admits he is not an eyewitness when he states the story came down to them through the "generations."

JD Curtis said...

None of the writers of the gospels identify themselves. They weren't named until around 300CE

Wrong as usual.

"The Muratorian Canon (c. a.d. 180) lists Luke as the author of the third Gospel, and so do Irenaeus (c. a.d. 175) and Marcion (c. a.d. 135)" Link

in the first chapter of Luke, the author admits he is not an eyewitness when he states the story came down to them through the "generations."


Is this what you are blathering about?

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" Luke 1:1-2 (NIV)

It is interesting to note that Matthew removes or modifies some verses

What part of "Matthew and Luke sometimes improve upon Mark's grammer and word choice. Mark is not real polished in Greek grammer and style, while Matthew and Luke are much more so" didnt you understand?

Luke was an eyewitness to the risen Christ. Link

JD Curtis said...

I am not familiar with the better scholarship which defends the priority of Matthew and refutes the notion of "Q"

From my understanding, "Q" is nothing more than a theory. Even if it turned out to be true, it wouldn't actually be devastating for Christians.

Apparently in the ancient world, people would write down a list of the sayings of a famous speaker and construct sort of a "Greatest Hits" version of their sayings. "Q" would fit into that catagory (if it actually existed) and if the apostles drew from such a list (if it existed) to support their accounts re: Jesus Christ then woop-dee-doo. "Q" would contain little if anything in the way of narrative accounts and I hardly think that I would rent my garments, put on sackcloth and embrace Unitarianism if it actually turned out to be true that such a source was utilized.
The veracity of such sayings by Christ would still be a bone of contention for skeptics and it would settle nothing.

For a good reference on the subject, Strobel's book that I mention up above is excellent and I highly recommend it.

Froggie said...

JD Curtis said...
"None of the writers of the gospels identify themselves. They weren't named until around 300CE

Wrong as usual."

No, I am not wrong. My statement is true. None of the authors of he gospels identify themselves in the gospel.
You owe me an apology.



Having said that, the

Froggie said...

"Luke was an eyewitness to the risen Christ. Link"

The link states it was Luke, but the verses referenced do not claim it was Like.

Froggie said...

JD,

"Is this what you are blathering about?"

Have a bad day, JD? Insulting me will get you nowhere.

"Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word" Luke 1:1-2 (NIV)"

"just as they were handed down to US by those who from the first were eyewitnesses."

Luke was not an eyewitness. He says so.

Tristan D. Vick said...

JD- Here's a proper response to you 'Doubting the Gospel of Thomas' post.

Hopefully everyone here will find time to read it, as I correct some common misconceptions regarding the dating of the text and its legitimacy as an Early Christian writing.

http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/07/doubting-gospel-of-thomas-response.html

Tristan D. Vick said...

Gregg-

Since NO trustworthy Biblical historian would agree with you on that... you might want to look into that.

Or you could save some time having to read actual scholarly research by reading my well informed blog!

http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/07/doubting-gospel-of-thomas-response.html

Tristan D. Vick said...

Also, anyone who wants a refresher course on the creation of the biblical canon might want to read:

http://advocatusatheist.blogspot.com/2010/07/i-am-atheos-book-preview.html

Michael said...

I am amazed at JD's claim that Luke "was an eyewitness to the risen Christ", but even more amazed that he would put credence in the link he furnishes - which is to a doctored version of Luke's Road to Emmaus scene. How doctored? Well, among other things, the name Jesus that appears in Luke is changed throughout to 'Jesus Christ'. More pertinently, the name 'Luke' is inserted at several points where it doesn't in fact occur. The only disciple named in the original is Cleopas. Talk about forgery! How about this kind of modern-day forgery, incredibly cited as the source for a factual claim?