Starting on 14 February (Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day) at IASP, I will offer a daily reflection on one of the Sayings that appears in the document known as “The Gospel of Thomas.”

We will start with Saying #24, which is the Saying after the last of the Thomas Sayings I dealt with leading up to Christmas:

We have printed a booklet containing all 114 Sayings from the Gospel of Thomas which can be viewed here:

Over the next three days, I will publish here a version of the introduction that appears in that booklet leading up to reflections on Saying 24 on 14 February

Introduction To The Thomas Text

The document known as “The Gospel of Thomas” is an ancient collection of one hundred and fourteen Sayings (or “Logion”) attributed to Jesus.

It was common practice in the ancient world for students to pass around in oral form the words of their teacher, or to create sayings and stories in the spirit of the teaching, which would later be written down and attributed to the teacher. The actual authorship of “The Gospel of Thomas” cannot be accurately ascertained.

Although it is referred to in a few ancient writings, “The Gospel of Thomas” was largely unknown, until it was discovered buried in a small cave in the desert near the Arab village of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945, along with fifty-three other ancient manuscripts.

(It is interesting to speculate whether the world and the church may have been unready to receive “The Gospel of Thomas” prior to 1945. Could it be that it was only as the religious culture of the day was beginning to soften towards alternative formulations of faith that “The Gospel of Thomas” had the chance of receiving a sympathetic hearing?)

The date of “The Gospel of Thomas”, which was translated into Coptic from either a Greek or Syriac original, is not known. Estimates range from as early as 40 CE to 140 CE. (nb: The Canonical Gospels are generally believed to have been written down between 60 and 100 CE.)

One of the earliest mentions of “The Gospel of Thomas” is found in the writings of Eusebius (c.260-339 CE), bishop of Caesarea, who included it among a group of books he deemed “heretical”.

Why did Eusebius feel the need to designate a list of books as “heretical?”

Eusebius believed that the Emperor Constantine had been ordained by God to inaugurate God’s kingdom on earth. He argued that if the Emperor was going to maintain the order of heaven on earth, he must establish a uniform system of belief and practice that would be shared by all Christians. According to the vision of Eusebius, under Constantine’s rule, Christian religion would be “catholic” or “universal”, reaching to the full extent of imperial power which would enforce uniformity in Christian beliefs, practices, and social organizations. Thus it was deemed essential to have an authorized list of texts (“a canon”) to establish and protect “orothodox” belief in the service of the empire.

Whatever may be the date in which they were composed, the Sayings of “The Gospel of Thomas” reflect an early attempt by an unknown Christian community to transmit their understanding of the teachings of Jesus and thus have the capacity to provide for seekers today inspiration and spiritual nourishment.