The Gospel of Thomas
A Gnostic Interpretation
The following is offered as nothing more than the author's personal interpretation of passages from the Gospel of Thomas. In all cases, the Bentley Layton translation (Doubleday 1987) is used.
The mysteries taught by Jesus
Jesus said, "It is to those [worthy] of [my] secrets that I am telling my secrets. Do not let your left hand understand what your right hand is doing." Saying 62.
And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" Jesus answered them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted." Matthew 13:10-11.
- Jesus only taught his mysteries to the worthy few.
John the Baptist
Jesus said, "From Adam unto John the Baptist there has been none among the offspring of women who has been more exalted than John the Baptist, so that such a person's eyes might be broken. But I have said that whoever among you becomes a little one will become acquainted with the kingdom, and will become more exalted than John." Saying 46.
- John the Baptist was not an initiate of the mysteries taught by Jesus.
[Jesus] said, " * * * You, then, be on your guard against the world. Arm yourselves with great power lest the brigands find a way to get to you." Saying 21.
[Jesus said,] "If you do not abstain from the world, you will not find the kingdom." Saying 27.
Jesus said, "I stood at rest in the midst of the world. And unto them I was shown forth incarnate; I found them all intoxicated. And I found none of them thirsty. And my soul was pained for the children of humankind." Saying 28.
Jesus said, "The Pharisees and the scribes have taken the keys to acquaintance and hidden them. They have neither entered nor let those who want to enter ." Saying 39.
Jesus said, "The one who had found the world and become rich should renounce the world." Saying 110
Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4.
- A follower of Jesus must remove himself from the world. Interaction with those consumed by affairs of this world distracts one from entering the kingdom of God. The Pharisees (and all those consumed by the world) block entrance by the seeker to the kingdom of God.
Poverty of the flesh
Jesus said, " * * * But the kingdom is inside of you. And it is outside of you. When you become acquainted with yourselves, then you will be recognized. And you will understand that it is you who are children of the living father. But if you do not become acquainted with yourselves, then you are in poverty, and it is you who are the poverty." Saying 3.
Jesus said, "It is amazing if it was for the spirit that flesh came into existence. And it is amazing indeed if spirit (came into existence) for the sake of the body. But as for me, I am amazed at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty." Saying 29.
"For [the Essene] doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of it not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue forever ... and are united to their bodies as in prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from along bondage, rejoice and mount upward." Flavius Josephus, Jewish Wars II 8:11 (154-44), emphasis added.
- Fairly self-explanatory. The material world and bodily flesh are poverty. When our eternal soul dwells in such poverty it degrades the divine essence found within. Said another way, the eternal soul while trapped in flesh of this earth is bound in prison.
Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion that the human being will devour so that the lion becomes human. And cursed is the human being that the lion devours; and the lion will become human." Saying 7.
Jesus said, " * * * In the days when you used to ingest dead [elements], you made them alive." Saying 11.
- Lions, as supreme hunters, represent bodily death. See James the Brother of Jesus by Robert Eisenman at page 20. Those devoured by lions are consumed by the world, meaning they are trapped in the cycle of bodily life and death of this world.
- A man who defeats or consumes lions, such as Daniel who entered the lion's den, has defeated death. He has escaped the cycle of life and death on this earth.
- Saying 7 gives voice to the imagery of the Buddha seated atop a lion.
Death and Life
And he said, "Whoever finds the meaning of these sayings will not taste death." Saying 1.
Jesus said, " * * * And the dead are not alive, and the living will not die." Saying 11.
The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us how our end will come to pass." Jesus said, "Then have you laid bare the beginning, so that you are seeking the end? For the end will be where the beginning is. Blessed is the person who stands at rest in the beginning. And that person will be acquainted with the end and will not taste death." Saying 18.
Jesus said, "Blessed is that which exsted before coming into being. If you exist as my disciples and listen to my sayings, these stones will minister unto you. Indeed, you have five trees in paradise, which do not move in summer or winter, and whose leaves do not fall. Whoever is acquainted with them will not taste death." Saying 19.
- Those who do not understand the meaning of these sayings lack enlightenment and are dead. They are condemned to be reincarnated again and again (continual cycle of life and death in this world) until they understand and, thereby, defeat physical death to become spiritually alive. One who defeats death is freed from the necessity to be born again in this world and passes on to the kingdom of God where there is eternal life. Knowledge (gnosis) is the path from death to life.
- The goal is to return to the state from whence we came for the end is found at the beginning.
Two become one
[Jesus] said, " * * * For many that are first will be last, and they will become one." Saying 21.
Jesus said, " * * * When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day that you were one, you made two. And when you are two, what will you do?" Saying 11.
Jesus said, "Then have you laid bare the beginning, so that you are seeking the end? For the end will be where the beginning is. Blessed is the person who stands at rest in the beginning. And that person will be acquainted with the end and will not taste death." Saying 18.
Jesus said, "Blessed is that which existed before coming into being." Saying 19.
They said to him, "So shall we enter the kingdom by being little ones?" Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one * * * then you will enter [the kingdom]." Saying 22.
Jesus said, "Two will repose on a couch: one will die, one will live. * * * It is I who come from that which is integrated. * * * I say that such a person, once integrated, will become full of light; but such a person, once divided will become full of darkness. Saying 61.
Jesus said, "when you make the two into one you will become sons of man, and when you say, 'O mountain, go elsewhere!' it will go elsewhere." Saying 106.
- In the beginning before being born in the flesh, each of us was an integrated whole. At birth, we became two--an upper and lower self. Part of our being (the higher self) remains in the kingdom of God. The higher self is "that which existed before coming into being" as found in Saying 19. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, this is the symbolic meaning of the older brother who remains at his father's house while the prodigal son leaves for the foreign land (i.e., the material world). This older brother or higher self gave rise to the Christian concept of a guardian angel. It also inspired the Knights Templar symbol of two riders on a single horse.
- The two must become one again to defeat death and return to the kingdom of God. Thus, "one must die [the earthly self] and one must live [the higher self]."
The Immanent God
Jesus said, "It is I who am the light (that presides) over all. It is I who am the entirety: it is from me that the entirety has come, and to me that the entirety goes. Split a piece of wood: I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me there." Saying 7.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. Gospel of John 1:1-3.
- Jesus is one with the entirety (as are all who defeat death). God is everywhere and, literally, everything for nothing exists apart from God. In this way, all is one.
- Although absent from the Gospel of Thomas, gnostic Christian texts speak of an ineffable nothingness that is superior to a deity (God). The divine that can be perceived by man is a mere emanation from this unitary nothingness. The Secret Book According to John, III.
Female becoming male
Simon Peter said to them, "Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life." Jesus said, "See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven." Saying 114.
Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one and make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below, and that you might make the male and the female be one and the same, so that the male might not be male nor the female be female, * * * then you will enter [the kingdom]." Saying 22.
- The initiate moves beyond physical gender returning to an androgynous state that is neither male nor female. This is Philo of Alexandria's concept of the First Adam, who was perfect in all things, neither male nor female. See On the Creation XLVI (134).
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