The assumed genre of a work affects how it is interpreted. Most have assumed the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic work and attempt to interpret it literally as such.

This question has nothing to do with that.

A few assume that it contains teachings which are in an esoteric Christian formulation. As such, does it share enough content with the Gospels, and sufficient parallel doctrine with the apostles that the details of a formal Biblical hermeneutic might be discerned?

If it is assumed to be of the genre of riddle, as in sensus plenior, are there indications that it may help in the formulation of a formal Biblical hermeneutic?

  • I missed the question the first time around. It's an interesting question. But I would want to know if there's any connection between the Gospel of Thomas and the apostles. Perhaps it would be better to use some other text (which might have influenced the early Christians) instead? For instance, the writings of Philo might have been read by Christians as the canon was being written. Jul 6, 2012 at 20:57
  • THe GOT has been labelled as Gnostic by those who attempt to understand it literally. Philo is more tunes to Pythogreans, and Greek Philosophy. His use of numerology is completely different. Scholors say that it is likely he did not read Hebrew, without which there can be little tie to the gospels. I have shown that even the Logos is traceable to Gen 1:1 rather than to Philo.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 6, 2012 at 21:51
  • Some GOT researchers place an early date on GOT even preceding the gospels. If the gospels are the recorded "dog and pony show" (not meant derogatorily, but based on the repetion of the apostles, preaching the same thing in many places) then a contemporaneous origin is not out of the question. They would be sermon notes on how to read the OT. and the gospels would be the events that Jesus did that fulfilled the OT. This can be shown if the gospels are analyzed as if written in the order Mark, Matt, Luke John, each becoming more sophisticated in the use of SP.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 6, 2012 at 21:57
  • "But I would want to know if there's any connection between the Gospel of Thomas and the apostles." I would suggest taht many people had access to the apostles, and that GOT was produce FROM their teaching, not the other way around.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 6, 2012 at 22:00
  • 1
    Yes, the Apostles do appear to use The gospel of Thomas. Take a look at these Key Word Connections: View The Thomas - Corinthian Connection For more information, and to see similar connections to many other New Testament writings visit The Key of Knowledge.
    – user765
    Sep 17, 2012 at 5:45

2 Answers 2


Who influenced whom?

The critical question to answer before we can speculate on the relationship between Thomas and the canonical gospels is which came first? According to the Early Christian Writings website (a fairly neutral source), canonical Gospels are dated:

  • 65–80 Gospel of Mark
  • 80–100 Gospel of Matthew
  • 80–130 Gospel of Luke
  • 90–120 Gospel of John

By contrast:

  • 50–140 Gospel of Thomas

In other words, the potential range of dates for Thomas completely engulfs the range of the four we usually read. That means that Thomas either could be influenced by them, influence them, or have a completely separate history. To make matters more complicated, the "gospel" of Thomas comprises of a series of logia and are not presented in a narrative structure as are the four gospels we are most familiar with. Therefore, it's entirely possible that sayings were added over the years, which could mean some are very early and others quite late. The relative dearth of manuscript evidence (one complete copy in Coptic and three Greek fragments) further complicates our ability to reconstruct the document's history.

While there are certainly interesting arguments to be made for Mark drawing from Thomas (presumably rather than from Q), the evidence points most strongly toward the null hypothesis: Thomas had no influence on the New Testament texts.

Words versus Works

Probably the most important saying found in Thomas is the first:

And he said, "Whoever finds the meaning of these sayings will not taste death."—Gospel of Thomas 1 (Layton)

Rather startlingly, we find a similar formulation in Jesus's mouth in John:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."—John 8:51 (ESV)

In the canonical Gospels, we certainly see Jesus point out the importance of teasing out the hidden meaning of his words (see Mark 8 and parallels). But understanding Jesus is not isolated from action or from the context of the Kingdom imagery which early Christians seem to have identified with their movement. In other words, Thomas consists primarily of words and interprets Jesus as being interested in esoteric knowledge. Meanwhile the canonical gospels put Jesus' words in a context of his works and interpret Jesus as being interested in moving from understanding God to responding to God via correct actions.

According to the author of the Gospel of Thomas hidden knowledge, rather than the Kingdom, was Jesus primary concern. Compare the canonical critique of the scribes and Pharisees with:

Jesus said: The Pharisees and the scribes have taken the keys of knowledge (and) have hidden them. They did not go in, and those who wished to go in they did not allow. But you, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.—Gospel of Thomas 39 (Blatz)

Besides being an obvious mash-up of Luke 11:52 and Matthew 10:16(b), this saying presents a unique (and I'd argue, ahistorical) view of Jewish scholars engaged in hiding "the keys of knowledge". In the synoptic gospels especially, Jesus usually finds fault with the Pharisee's application of the law, not their interpretation. (It was the Sadducees with whom Jesus argued the meaning of the law.) He certainly doesn't accuse them of knowing more than they communicate in public.


Perhaps the most obvious way to think of the hermeneutical methods found in the Gospel of Thomas is that it's an application of the law of the instrument. Since the text consists almost entirely of logia stripped of context, it's natural that it would interpret itself (and be interpreted) via careful analysis of hidden connections and contemplation of deeper meanings. Early Christians, who were in the best position to evaluate context, generally rejected the Gospel of Thomas in favor of more well-rounded accounts.

  • The last saying you quote is parallel to this: Mt 23:13 ¶ But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Thomas uses the "kingdom of heaven" as a reference to the esoteric knowledge.
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 13, 2012 at 21:45
  • Aren't you first interpreting Thomas as though it is literal in order to produce your conclusion? The question is really, Do the apostles and Thomas read the OT in similar fashions, and how does Thomas help us reproduce the apostle's elusive hermeneutic?
    – Bob Jones
    Jul 13, 2012 at 22:00
  • " He certainly doesn't accuse them of knowing more than they communicate in public." He called them serpents (liars). A liar is one who is misrepresenting what he knows to be true. So he did accuse them of knowing something which was true and not sharing it.
    – Bob Jones
    Feb 17, 2014 at 14:09

If it is assumed that the Gospel of Thomas is in the genre of riddle, then there appear to be three types of sayings:

  1. Clues to be used in solving particular Biblical riddles.
  2. Hints that are general clues to solving riddles.
  3. Restatement of Biblical thoughts in a new riddle to connect otherwise unrelated passages.


A clue gives a bit more information to help solve a riddle than the information which is contained in the riddle. Though it appears to be outside information, violating the rules of sensus plenior, a clue actually is unnecessary to solve the riddle. It just makes it easier, and the solution can be confirmed from 'witnesses' within scripture.

(7) Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man."

This helps understand the hidden meaning of Samson's riddle. Whether the lion eats or is eaten, it becomes a man. The Lion is the Lion of Judah, which is the man Christ Jesus. Jesus is consumed by man when we eat the bread which he identified as his body. He is happy at the salvation of a lost soul. The Honey within the lion of Samson's riddle represents earthly blessings coming from the death of the lion. [1] But one who is devoured by the lion has been judged by Christ. All judgement has been given to the Son.


Hints help solve more than a single riddle. They are like explaining how the rules of the game work.

(22) Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, "These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom." They said to him, "Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?" Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom."

This hint shares the secret of Christian dualism. There are two natures which are both good. One is a heavenly or spiritual nature and one is an earthly nature. The infants was being nourished from the left (flesh) and the right (spirit). Learning from the physical world and the spiritual are both good as long as they are kept in proper perspective. Same as Paul's teaching of the old and new man, of the flesh and of the spirit.

"when you make two one" refers to our practice of saying that two things together are one thing represented in two aspects. The examples follow:

"when you make inside like the outside" - When you are not a hypocrite, but your heart and actions are one. Same as Jesus's teaching against hypocrisy.

"The above like the below" - The physical realities reflect spiritual ones. Like Paul teaching that marriage is a symbol of Christ and the church.

"When you make male and female one and the same" Same as Paul's "there is no male or female in Christ..." The man and his bride have been made one flesh.


Restatements of Biblical teaching

(18) The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us how our end will be." Jesus said, "Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death."

Jesus said that he was the beginning and the end. If you know Christ as the creator God and that you have been chosen ("take his place at the beginning"), you know him as the Savior God, and you will not taste death.

(114) Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

The idea that women need to become male is the same as the blind being made to see. Mary means rebellious. Peter suggest that the rebellious among them must leave, for those who are blind are not worthy of life. In the riddle, Jesus says that he will make her see (or understand), where she will then have life.

The representation of a relative blindness is used of the donkeys Jesus took into Jerusalem, and solves the prophesy of Jeremiah that all men would become pregnant. Jeremiah says that those who understand, will be fruitful and multiply as the bride of Christ. Being male, it is a virgin pregnancy, signifying that the fruitfulness is spiritual, not physical.

By restating the riddle of blindness in the context of gender, the biblical stories of blindness and gender can be overlaid as one story.

Matthew overlays the story of the children being slaughtered by Pharaoh and Herod, with the imagery of the Jacob, Joseph and Israel in the Exodus and the birth of Christ by connecting disjointed metaphor.

Critics will say that we have found what we looked for. This is no criticism at all. If you don't look for something, you won't find it.

Heb 11:6 But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.


This does not suggest that the Gospel of Thomas should be considered canon, nor even that they are legitimate sayings of Jesus. It suggests that they are a collection of notes, or a cheat sheet made by someone learning to see the sensus plenior. In fact, the SP of Revelation limits the number of authors for the NT canon to seven, which supports the tradition that Mark contains Peter's teaching and Hebrews was written by Paul.

[1] We know that honey is the earthly representation of blessings:

Milk and Honey are two things associated together. One is heavenly and the other earthly. They are both blessings in the promised land.

Milk is a type of fat, and all fat belongs to God (according to the laws of sacrifice). Therefore the milk is the heavenly aspect of blessing and honey is the earthly aspect.

[2] I have posted a complete interpretation of the sayings of Thomas using the methods of SP here: http://thetaobums.com/topic/32359-gospel-of-thomas-class-notes-on-sensus-plenior/ I am not affiliated with the sight. But they have been receptive to the conversation.

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