Gospel of St. Thomas ( Didymus Judas Thomas)
as extracted from the book “ Jesus before the gospels by Bart E Ehrm
Even though Jesus was believed to have 12 disciples, there are only 4 gospels in the new testament which is very puzzling. Christians in Kerala believe that St. Thomas came here in the 1st century and evangelized the people here and converted them to Christians. But unfortunately the so called Christians in Kerala has never heard of the Gospel of Thomas. In the year 1945, the scholars found the gospel of Thomas . Reading this gospel will reveal why the early Christian theologians decided against including this gospel in the new testament. This gospel is more spiritual and stresses on understanding the teachings of Jesus rather than focusing on the virgin birth, resurrection and the church establishment. Unlike the canonical gospels, the gospel of Thomas is not a narrative of Jesus’s life, ministry, death and resurrection. It consists entirely of the sayings of Jesus. Altogether 114 quotes. Thomas does not speak of Jesus as the messiah, or the son of God. He simply calls Jesus as the “living Jesus”.
Another significant thing about this gospel is that it clearly mentions the name of Didymus Judas Thomas as the author unlike all the other gospels which are written by unknown authors according to the version of Mathew, Peter, Mark and John.
Thomas writes “ whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death”. For Thomas, understanding what Jesus really meant by his secret teachings is the way, probably the only way , to have eternal life. Salvation does not come by believing in Jesus’s death and resurrection, or by accepting his virgin birth, or by acknowledging that he is God who became a man. Salvation can be achieved only by interpreting what Jesus had said.
Many Christians believe that they will be the members of the future kingdom of God. But in the gospel of Thomas, he says that future rule and membership is not reserved for the disciples alone. It is open to anyone who seeks the meaning of Jesus’s words, finds it, realizes how disturbing it really is, and then marvels at the truth. Again he says “ Jesus said, the One who seeks should not stop seeking until he finds. And when he finds he will be disturbed; and when he is disturbed, he will marvel. And he will rule over all.
The gospel of Thomas clearly proves that Thomas had a clear understanding of the teachings of Jesus, teaching about the world, the people who are in it and how the people can find salvation. One recurring motif is that the material world is not a good place. This world is lifeless and dead. The One who realizes this will be able to escape and have life. He quotes Jesus “ the one who has come to know the world has. found a corpse, The world is not worthy of that person”
In the gospel of Thomas, this world is not portrayed as a good creation of the good God as presented in the book of Genesis. It is portrayed as a deeply impoverished place that is the realm of entrapment for human spirits who have the misfortune of living here. He is surprised on how the great wealth of the spirit has come to be trapped in the poverty of this material world.
When Jesus came into this world, he saw he humans in this poor state blinded , impoverished and unaware of their real being. Only by understand the truth can a person escape from living in this material realm. That can come only through the secret knowledge that Jesus provides. This knowledge is principally self knowledge., of who you really are as one who has come from the enlightened realm of God into this world. Those who do not realize this about themselves will never escape from this miserable realm. “When you come to know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are the children of the living father. Jesus said “ when you strip naked without being ashamed and take your clothes and place them under your feet like little children and stamp on them, them you will see the son of the living One and you will not be afraid.” Like children shedding their clothes, you must shed this body and follow Jesus to escape from this miserable world and experience everlasting life. If its bodily pleasure that makes you appreciate the body, then you should engage in self denial to keep yourself from being tied to the body and thus to this material realm.
Thomas therefore is seen as highly ascetic text, one that urges its readers to avoid the pitfalls of bodily pleasure in the light of the need to liberate the spirit from its material entrapment. The saying of Thomas in his gospel like sayings 1,3,5,16,18,39,46,56,67 etc focus on correct knowing and understanding. You must know what you are and what the world is. All this is revealed in the teachings of Jesus. Those who understand these teachings will not taste death.”
Thomas mocks at Jewish practices like fasting, Sabbath, etc. Saying 53 attacks the practice of circumcision by the Jews. “ if cutting off a baby’s foreskin were profitable, God would have had boys born without it in the first place.”
Saying 39 criticises the scribes and Pharisees for having the keys to the kingdom but they do not know how to enter the kingdom and also prevents anyone else to enter also.
In saying 3, he mocks at the Christians who believe that the kingdom is a physical place. If it is in the sky the birds will get there first. If in the water, the fish will beat you to it. In this gospel, the kingdom is an internal reality; within those who realize they are sons of the living father. Thus it is already spread over the entire Earth. In Saying 113 also, Jesus stresses that the kingdom is not a physical entity, it is here and now , but hidden from those who lack knowledge. Those who teach otherwise are false teachers.
From these sayings in the gospel of Thomas, one thing is clear. It is way different from the other gospels. The Gospel of Thomas is more spiritual than any other gospel. It focuses on the teachings of Jesus and stresses on understanding it and becoming aware of the reality about the spiritual world.
For a religion like Christianity with its focus on material worship in churches and keeping up the importance of the priestly class, this gospel is an anachronism and hence very wisely suppressed by the priestly class. The gospel of Thomas exhorts its followers to seek enlightenment.
From a reading of this gospel one thing is very clear. St Thomas has never visited Kerala or done any evangelical work here or converted anyone in India. Otherwise, it is absolutely sure that the early Christians in Kerala would have followed the teachings in the gospel of Thomas which is very much different from the other canonical gospels. St Thomas would have surely pushed his gospel teachings and led all the Christians here on a spiritual path to enlightenment instead of the present focus on worship, belief on virgin birth and resurrection and the material trappings. The Christians in Kerala has not even heard of the gospel of Thomas which clearly proves that the disciple of Jesus has never visited Kerala.
By George Merlo Pallath
Gospel of St. Thomas ( Didymus Judas Thomas)