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I've wondered about this for years, what does Thomas mean? The passage is below, Thomas 1:22:

Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom]." - Gospel of Thomas

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    Is this question on-topic? The Gospel of Thomas isn't in the Bible, so is it a Biblical text? hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic Feb 2, 2021 at 22:03
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    I do not think this a question about the Bible but about the Gospel of Thomas, a well-known Gnostic document from the second century.
    – Dottard
    Feb 2, 2021 at 22:04
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    @AnthonyBurg there's a discussion about that where for some is ok, others think otherwise. The tag exists and there's 8 questions about it. Feb 2, 2021 at 22:07
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    Also see What Texts are Open for Examination. There are many texts that aren't "in the Bible" that are still relevant for examination within the field, or are regularly studied by experts working in it.
    – Steve can help
    Feb 2, 2021 at 22:52
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    There are many academics who believe that Thomas is a source text for Mark and for John and represents a first century tradition. It has a large influence within Christianity in the early years and was known well before it's discovery due to quotations from it in various ancient works. I will work on addressing this question directly soon. This is definitely on topic for biblical hermeneutics.
    – Gus L.
    Feb 3, 2021 at 0:36

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One way of understanding this is in terms of polarity. This is the idea that dark and light, male and female, up and down, good and evil, and any number of categories are not opposites, but polar like the north and south pole. One implies the other. If you try to cut off the south pole, there is another one underneath. Also, if you have a north pole, you can be certain that there is a south pole.

So in this way, inner implies outer, upper implies lower, and male implies female. It seems to be our condition, however, to think in categories of this and that. We want to DEFEAT evil, or see in 1 John that God is light and there is no darkness in him. Or in Revelation 22 that there will be no night in the kingdom to come.

But this is like trying to have a mountain range made up entirely of peaks and no valleys. You might also compare this to "The way of the lord" in Isaiah 40 (a core reference in all canonical Gospels). There:

Isaiah 40:4, "Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain."

Here, this author clearly understands the idea of polarity and the revelation of God when the separation of the poles are eliminated. You can also see this in the reunion of male and female as one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

You can also see this in the way that the Jews meet at dawn and dusk to make offerings to the Lord (Numbers 28). While they also provide a sabbath (sun/light) and monthly (new moon, darkness) offering, the offerings to the LORD take place at dawn and dusk when God is present in the intersection.

There are many places where the intersection of these polarities is seen behind a Christology in the text. Jesus is also human and God which are polar opposites. Jesus is the immanent and is in relation with the transcendent, and it is this intersection of that polar pair that God is present.

So for this particular line of theology, God is the continuous intersection of polar principles. Light and dark are continually and eternally crashing together and being separated at dawn and dusk. Male and female are continuously coming together, not just in sex, but in a sort of giving and receiving.

So in this way, you can read Thomas as speaking to this truth. The kingdom will be revealed when you realize the unity of the poles (as Thomas declares "My Lord and My God" in John 20), but this realization is a mental shift, and not a physical shift. The world is ALREADY like this, it is just that you now see it. So in this case, nothing really changes. The things of the world are still themselves. A foot is a foot... An eye is an eye... and image is an image.

This goes with Thomas 113

His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?" "It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, 'Look, here!' or 'Look, there!' Rather, the Father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don't see it."

This is present in the canon in Luke 17:20-21. Here, Jesus is not saying that the "kingdom come" is something that will happen physically, but that it is a psychological transformation.

This is captured in how Jesus "defeats satan" by submitting to the cross. He doesn't put his fists up to fight evil, but puts his hands out. It's somewhat counter-intuitive, but it's very much like the chinese finger trap. Polarity is a theology of non-dualism and there is strong support for it throughout the canonical scriptures.

I believe what the first century authors were struggling with was a semantic shift created by their time as a Vassal state to Zoroastrian Persia between liberation from babylon by Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1), and the conquest of Alexander into the Helenistic period. While the Jews once had this theology of polarity, the polytheistic influence of the Zoroastrians began to demonize the dark and shift towards light (in Zoroastrianism Light = Good, Dark = Evil). It seems that some first century authors saw Jesus as a return to orthodoxy of polarity and monotheism instead of what seems like a polytheism of a purely Good God with no evil at all.

In this way, Jesus is the birth of the darkness back into the world in order to divinize it (being born liturgically at the winter solstice), and he is revealed as God at the vernal equinox (Easter) when light and dark are perfectly balanced, just as in Numbers 28.

Thomas is Good stuff. I'm Glad you asked this question. I hope that this helps.

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  • "A foot is a foot... An eye is an eye... and image is an image." Perhaps you could expand on this. The text says 'in place of', as in a replacement, which seems a different idea to me. Feb 3, 2021 at 17:26
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    I tried to get at that. My point was that the transformation indicated in the first half is psychological, not physical. Everything in the world is “replaced” with the same thing. Nothing physically changes, but the transformation is to see you were standing in heaven all along.
    – Gus L.
    Feb 3, 2021 at 23:22
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Almost every verse in the Gospel of Thomas is something like a Buddhist Korean -- food for deep thought. One answer here emphasizes the concept of polarity, and this is certainly correct as far as it goes. We should start by understanding a bit about Gnostic Cosmology.

From a Gnostic point of view, the cosmos was divided into a realm of the material and a heavenly world of light. The soul of man was a splinter of light trapped on earth in the body of the human. The world as the power of darkness watched over the soul in the prison of matter forgetting its heavenly home.

Gnosticism ultimately sought to transcend duality and return to the Pleroma, beyond the realm of good and evil. In the process it drew strong distinctions between body and spirit, light and darkness, male and female etc. But these only apply in the physical world, which for Gnostics was an illusion. Thus:

When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one... then you will enter.

But the question is about the two meanings of "foot."

This is best interpreted in context. The next phrase speaks of making an image "an image." This is easier to understand. And image can be a symbol, but it can also be an idol. It can also refer to humans being created in the image of God. A likely understanding of this is that the author is encouraging the reader not to worship Jesus but to become an incarnation of Truth, or at least to follow him rather than idolize him. This fits with the rest Thomas' teaching, namely that Jesus came to bring the Truth that set humans free, not to die for their sins.

Now, about that Foot...

Something similar may be meant by the two meanings of "foot." In a general sense the foot symbolized the lowest, most unspiritual part of the body. It had to be transformed into a foundation for spiritual growth. But there is probably something more than this: In the Old Testament to uncover one's foot often had a sexual connotation. But Gnosticism looked down at sexuality as related to the body, which was what Gnostics wanted to escape. For them, procreation only trapped more divine sparks in illusion. Understanding this, making "male and female into one" does not endorse sexual union but encourages its transcendence. Moreover, the energy of sex, which is negative, had to be channeled into spiritual energy, which is positive. This becomes clear when we read Thomas' final verse:

I shall lead her {Mary}, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Thus, the phrase about transforming a foot into a foot is probably an encouragement to transform sexual energy into spiritual power. More generally, it teaches that the physical body must be transformed into a spiritual one. In that way the physical dimension becomes a foundation ("foot") for enlightenment.

As I mentioned at the outset, Thomas is meant to be meditated upon. The interpretation I've offered may or may not be what the author intended, but I am confident that it fits with his overall theological outlook.

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I believe he meant that a foot into "a foot" instead of my foot, my hand, my eyes, etc my body. A body. It's about the impersonal self of Christ.

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