Who was St Thomas better known as ‘Doubting Thomas’?

 

         Thomas the Apostle also known as Didymus (meaning the ‘Twin’ brother of Jesus) died 72AD in Mylapore, India.

         Best known for questioning Jesus’s resurrection then proclaiming “My Lord, My God” on seeing Jesus – John 20:28.

         An architect and builder by trade he was directed to carry the gospel to Iraq/Iran and India following the death of Jesus.

         Writings attributed to him, but never included in the Bible,  include: the Acts of Thomas, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and the best known of all, The Gospel According To Thomas.

         The Gospel According To Thomas is a series of sayings of Jesus and may predate the writing of the gospels that made it into the Bible!

 

 The Missionary Travels of St Thomas:

 

         Following the resurrection of Jesus, the Apostles cast lots to carry the Gospel to different areas of the then known world.

         To Thomas fell India. He sailed to India in 52AD to spread Christianity amongst the Jews in Kerala where he established seven churches still there! He also went to Indo-Parthia (modern Pakistan) where he worked as a builder at Taxila (modern Islamabad).

         From there tradition has it that he went to Kerala in SW India, and then on to SE India where he was martyred at St Thomas’s Mount in AD72 near modern day Chennai (Madras).

         In 232 his remains were brought back to Edessa in modern Iraq. Marco Polo in 1292 mentions Christians in southern India. Some relics are still kept in a church at Myalapore in Tamil Nadu state, southern India. His relics are now in Ortona,Italy.

 

The Writings of St Thomas:

 

         Three major writings which never made it into the Bible are attributed to St Thomas: these are, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas late 2nd century AD: a gospel about the childhood of Jesus.

         The Acts of St Thomas 3rd century AD: portraying Christ as the “Heavenly Redeemer”, independent of and beyond creation, who can free souls from the darkness of the world.

         The Gospel According To Thomas: perhaps as early as 1st century AD maybe predating the Gospels in the Bible: collection of 114 sayings of Jesus discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in December 1945, in one of a group of books known as the Nag Hammadi library. Almost half of these sayings resemble those recorded by other Gospel writers in the Bible. Perhaps this is the most accurate record we have of the actual sayings of Jesus which may have been recorded by Thomas as early as 30-60AD!

Themes to consider in the Gospel According to Thomas:

·        Unlike the Canonical Gospels, there is no narrative of the life of Jesus – just a series of his sayings.

 

·        You will recognize some of the sayings and stories which were included in the canonical New Testament in different forms.

 

·        Many of the sayings are enigmatic and mysterious in the extreme – ‘Let him who has ears hear’. They provide a spiritually transformative process for those who ‘will hear’.

 

·        Jesus seems to talk about the ‘now’ rather than ‘what is to come’.

 

·        He often refers to what is divided and what is integrated – He comes from that which is undivided; light and darkness; poor and riches; spirit and body, male and female.

 

·        The Kingdom of the Father is invisible and difficult to describe in readily understood terms – yet it surrounds us.

 

·        The sayings presume and encourage ‘gnosis’ or ‘knowing’ – not intellectual knowledge but a spiritual knowing based on experience, intuition, ‘feeling’.

 

·        There are quite a few similarities between the ‘Gnosis’ described here and Mahayana Buddhism including:

 

·        Both traditions describe salvation by ‘gnosis’ or ‘jnana’ – that is, spiritual knowledge.

 

·        Ignorance (ie. blindness to the true facts of existence) is the cause of evil.

 

·        Spiritual knowledge is derived solely from revelation which each one of us has to experience within oneself.

 

·        The crucial role of wisdom within both the Gnostic an Buddhist systems.

 

·        The Nag Hammadi texts, including pre-eminently the Gospel According to  Thomas, clearly indicate that the earliest Christian groups were rooted in, and part of a larger esoteric movement proclaiming salvation through baptismal/spiritual initiation and gnosis (ie spiritual knowledge).

 

·        There is tons of debate about the nature of the Gospel According to Thomas both in the academic and the internet community generally.

 

·        Debate also in the academic community over the nature of ‘Gnosticism’ – is there enough commonality of belief in Gnostic texts to say that there is such a thing as ‘Gnosticism’? If so what did it mean, if anything, in the early centuries of Christianity?

 

·        Is the Gospel According to Thomas ‘Gnostic’?

Selected Sayings from The Gospel According to Thomas:

 

A few sayings are given below, but the complete version of the Gospel According To Thomas is available on the internet in several versions including:

 

http://www.goodnewsinc.net/othbooks/thomas.html

 

 

         These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke, and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down.

 

         (1) And he said: He who shall find the interpretation of the words shall not taste of death.

 

         (2) Jesus said: He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until: finds; and when he finds he will be troubled, and if he is troubled, he will be amazed, and he will reign over the All.

 

         (3) Jesus said: If those who lead you say unto you: Behold, the Kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will be before you. If they say unto you: It is in the sea, then the fish will be before you. But the Kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then shall you be known, and you shall know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if ye do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.

 

         (20) The disciples said to Jesus: Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like. He said to them: It is like a grain of mustard-seed, smaller than all seeds; but when it falls on the earth which is tilled, it puts forth a great branch, and becomes shelter for the birds of heaven.

 

         (24) His disciples said: Teach us concerning the place where thou art, for it is necessary for us to seek after it. He said to them: He that hath ears, let him hear. There is a light within a man of light, and it gives light to the whole world. If it does not give light, there is darkness.

 

         (25) Jesus said: Love thy brother as thy soul; keep him as the apple of thine eye.

 

         (28) Jesus said: I stood in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in flesh. I found them all drunk, I found none among them thirsting; and my soul was afflicted for the sons of men, for they are blind in their heart and they do not see. For empty came they into the world, seeking also to depart empty from the world. But now they are drunk. When they have thrown off their wine, then will they repent.

 

         (39) Jesus said: The Pharisees and the scribes have receive the keys of knowledge; they have hidden them. They did not go in, and those who wanted to go in they did not allow. But you be ye wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

 

         (47) Jesus said: It is not possible for a man to ride two horses or draw two bows, and it is not possible for a servant to serve two masters; or he will honour the one and insult the other. A man does not drink old wine and immediately desire to drink new wine; and they do not pour new wine into old skins, lest they burst, nor do they pour old wine into new skins, lest it spoil. They do not sew an old patch on a new garment, for a rent will come.

 

         (50) Jesus said: If they say to you: Whence have you come?, tell them: We have come from the light, the place where the light came into being through itself alone. It [stood], and it re- vealed itself in their image. If they say to you: Who are you?, say: We are his sons, and we are the elect of the living Father. If they ask you: What is the sign of your Father in you?, tell them: It is a movement and a rest.

 

         (62) Jesus said: I tell my mysteries to those [who are worthy of my] mysteries. What thy right hand shall do, let not thy left hand know what it does.

         (67) Jesus said: He who knows the All but fails (to know) him-self lacks everything.

 

         (70) Jesus said: When you bring forth that in yourselves, that which you have will save you. If you do not have that in yourselves, that which you do not have in you will kill you.

 

         (77) Jesus said: I am the light that is over them all. I am the All; the All has come forth from me, and the All has attained unto me. Cleave a (piece of) wood: I am there. Raise up the stone, an ye shall find me there.

 

         (82) Jesus said: He who is near to me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom.

 

         (92) Jesus said: Seek, and ye shall find; but those things concerning which ye asked me in those days, I did not tell you then. Now I wish to tell them, and ye seek not after them.

 

         (94) Jesus [said]: He who seeks shall find, and he who knock to him it shall be opened.

 

         (97) Jesus said: The kingdom of the [Father] is like a woman; carrying a jar full of meal and walking a long way. The handle the jar broke; the meal poured out behind her on the road. She was unaware, she knew not her loss. When she came into her house, she put down the jar (and) found it empty.

 

         (100) They showed Jesus a gold piece and said to him: They who belong to Caesar demand tribute from us. He said to them: What belongs to Caesar give to Caesar, what belongs to God give to God, and what is mine give unto me.

 

         102) And Jesus said: Woe to them, the Pharisees! For they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of the cattle; for he neither eats, nor does he let the cattle eat.

 

         (113) His disciples said to him: On what day will the kingdom come? <Jesus said>: It cometh not with observation. They will not say: Lo, here! or: Lo, there! But the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.

 

 Further reading for those interested:

          Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas, Random House, New York, 2003; ISBN 0375501568, 258 pages.

          Marvin Meyer, Secret Gospels: Essays on Thomas and the Secret Gospel of Mark, Trinity Press Int’l, Harrisburg, PA, 2003; ISBN 1563384094, 208 pages.

          Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and Faiths We Never Knew, Oxford University Press, 2003; ISBN 0195141830, 336 pages.

          Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Harper One, 2014. ISBN 9780061778186.

          Karen L. King, What is Gnosticism?, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2003; ISBN 067401071x, 358 pages.