"Jesus, the Gospel of Thomas and knowledge"
An essay donated by Allan W. Janssen
This is an excerpt from the book "The Plain Truth About God-101" by
Allan W Janssen. You can purchase the book in PDF format at: www.God-101.com
We have to keep in mind, and never lose sight of the fact that the
historical "Jesus" was culturally a product of the ancient Near East, and in
an area under Roman sovereignty. "Christ" was a product of the people and
times that came after him: Most notably Pauline thought, as well as a Greek
The parables and stories of the historical Jesus were the product of a first
century Jewish "rabbi-sage-cynic" from Galilee who had an enormous influence
on a handful of people around him.
We will refer to the historical figure as "Jesus" from now on and the person
of mythology as being the "Christ" of our modern religion.
Christianity, in its simplest terms, is the result of previous centuries of
Jewish and Greek myth and conjecture. It's about the coming of a "Messiah,"
and revolves around the resurrection.
The teachings of Jesus were altered to fit the legend but definitely took a
We all know that the gospels were composed many years after the death of not
only Jesus, but even of most of the people who knew him directly. Not only
were these Gospels displaced in time, but were also displaced culturally.
Since Greek speaking Christians composed them, even further meaning was lost
in translation from the Aramaic.
There are now two main, and disparate, schools of thought about the origin
The first, and mistaken belief is that Jesus himself, as well as his
teachings, was the founder.
The other is that the Christ or "Anointed One" of the Resurrection, (Shaped
by Pauline thought) is the bases of this religion.
This may seem to be a small distinction upon first inspection, but in the
end a very crucial one.
If it is based on the teachings, and more importantly, the example of Jesus,
then his words take on enormous significance. If, on the other hand, the
"Resurrection" and "Pauline thought" is taken as the bases for Christianity,
then it is based on the ideas and beliefs of the people who came after him!
Remember a very important fact! Jesus never personally claimed to be
conducting his ministry to "erase man's sins," just as he never claimed to
be Divine himself. Jesus constantly referred to himself as the "son of
God,"-- just as we all are!
The early Christian gospels are not historical biographies of Christ and do
not really give us insight into the life of Jesus.
These gospels proclaim a message about Jesus and express a significance that
the early Christians found in Jesus.
They are written in a way that appeals to historical truth, but they are not
history in any actual sense.
The gospels expressed what people experienced about Jesus in the context of
the first century Near East. This experience was taken as a "revelation" of
the Divine, and they tell us what the early Christians actually believed
Until the recent deciphering of the Gospel of Thomas and the discovery of
the "Q" sayings, this knowledge of Christ was the only bases we had to
explore the historical Jesus. As a result, it was very difficult to
differentiate between the actual words of Jesus and the words his followers
(Christians) attribute to him. Fortunately, this is changing.
It must be noted that "Q" (German for Quelle, or source) has only recently
been deciphered from the first three gospels by comparing them side by side.
In this comparison, there were many divergent views and stories, but
scholars also found a commonality within them that made no mention of the
miracles of Christ. Rather they pointed to the striped down sayings and
parables that were probably the "authentic words of Jesus."
Since the first gospel, Mark, was not written until thirty-five or forty
years or so after the death of Jesus, (Well over a generation later!) we
have to remember that early Christian preachers told stories about Jesus in
order to convey the significance they saw in him.
In explaining his parables and stories, it was necessary to paraphrase them
and even add to them by way of clarification.
The early Christians did not distinguish between the actual Jesus and the
Christ of their religion. They also did not distinguish between the sayings
of the earthly Jesus and the explanations and interpretations of Christ's
sayings given by their leaders.
Here we have a case where the actual sayings of the earthly Jesus, (Q) were
mixed with Christian interpretations of his words.
Then, various popular sayings and words of wisdom of the time, and the
purported words of the risen "Christ" were all collected in a primary work
which started out with the synoptic gospels of Mark, then Matthew and Luke.
After these three gospels, things took an even sharper turn and went in the
direction of our modern version of Christianity with the apocalyptic works
The authors of the gospels were actually anonymous, but for convenience
sake, we use the traditional names of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. The
first gospel - Mark, is loosely based on the first three or four decades of
oral tradition plus "Q," and the "Gospel of Thomas," which was passed down
to the author(s)
The first gospels were written largely in an attempt to provide some
standard collection of the stories circulating about Jesus. All, that is,
with the exception of the Gospel of John, which is apocalyptic and more
concerned with making a theological statement. These gospels were not
immediately recognized as authority. As late as 96 A.D. Clement, the Bishop
of Rome proclaimed the only authoritative texts of Christianity to be the
Old Testament and the various sayings attributed to Jesus then in
circulation. The Gospels did not appear in Christian writings until around
The same lack of authoritarian certification can be said of the Gospel of
Thomas, which might well be the most informative discovery about Christian
origins in modern history.
The Gospel was often mentioned in early Christian literature, but no copy
was thought to have survived until the discovery of a Coptic manuscript in
1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.
Portions of Greek versions of the Gospel of Thomas were found in Oxyrhynchus
Egypt about one hundred years ago and these can be dated to about 140 C.E.
or somewhat before. A complete version in Coptic (the native Egyptian
language written in an alphabet derived from the Greek alphabet) as we
mentioned, was found in Nag Hammadi Egypt in 1945. That version can
be dated to about 340 C.E. The Coptic version is a translation of the Greek
Thus most, if not all, of the Gospel of Thomas was written prior to 100 C.E.
Thomas is a pure sayings gospel; that is, it consists only of a collection
of the sayings of Jesus without any extended narrative or explanation.
While Thomas is not Q, its discovery proves the theory that such collections
existed in the early days of Christianity. The discovery of Thomas as part
of a Gnostic library has led many to believe it a Gnostic creation. However,
very little of it would have been considered unorthodox to the early church.
What little questionable material can be found is probably a later addition.
Thomas does represent a Jewish "Wisdom" philosophy that was embraced by
Jesus and the Gnostics. - "That the kingdom of God is not something we must
await for - but is in fact already here, if only we can become spiritual
enough to see it".
One of these documents found at Nag Hammadi begins with a note in the
margin, "The Gospel According to Thomas." The first sentence of that
document says, "These are the secret words which the living Jesus taught and
which Judas Thomas Didymos wrote down." Then they start over 110
sayings, each introduced with "and Jesus said."
Now this is very reveling since some of those sayings have parallels with
the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, -- and some not.
However, we can state that sayings or parables that are repeated two or more
times in any of the early Gospels have a much higher chance of being an
actual utterance by the historical Jesus.
These sayings may go back to a very early period of Christianity; some of
them may have been added later. The document itself comes from the fourth
century and as with all gospel text, we have to remember that these texts
were fluid. Remember, scribes could add, could leave things out, or could
add comments and even their own interpretations. They not only
could, but also did!
We cannot, reconstruct with certainty, what the Gospel of Thomas looked like
around the year 100 or earlier. It is very likely that it existed at that
time or before, and that a good deal of the material that's now in that
manuscript was already in a Greek manuscript that dates back to the first
Now what is typical about these sayings is that in each instance, they tell
us that if you want to understand what Jesus said, you have to first
recognize yourself. You have to know yourself, know who you are. It begins
with a saying about the Kingdom of God, which is probably one of the most
important, and reveling proclamations.
"If you seek the Kingdom of God in the sky then the birds will precede
and if you seek it in the sea, then the fish will precede you, but the
Kingdom is in you, and if you know yourself, then you know the Kingdom of
"However, if you do not know yourself, you live in poverty, not knowledge!"
To know yourself is the knowledge of our Divine origin -- the fact that we
have come from the Kingdom of the Father.
What does it mean really to know oneself? To know is to have insight into
one's own ultimate Divine identity.
"Know yourself" is a very old Greek maxim... That is, you have to know that
your own soul is Divine, and then you know that you are immortal. Whereas,
the body is the mortal part of human existence.
Now this is radicalized in the Gospel of Thomas into saying that everything
that is experienced physically and through sense perception, everything in
the world that you can perceive in this way is nothing. It is, at best,
chaos and, at worst, it does not even exist in reality.
The only thing that really exists is your Divine spirit or your Divine soul,
which is identical in its quality with God.
Copyright © by Allan W. Janssen
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-09
Latest update: 2006-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson
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