What is the Gospel of Thomas
Dr. Norman Geisler
The Claim of the Critics
radical critics of the New Testament claim that the Gnostic
Gospel of Thomas is equal or superior to the New Testament and
that it does not support the resurrection of Christ. The
so-called Jesus Seminar places the Gospel of Thomas in their
otherwise severely truncated Bible. Both stances are serious
challenges to the historic Christian faith.
Gospel of Thomas was discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, near
Cairo in 1945 and was translated into English in 1977. While
some have attempted to date parts of it earlier, the Gospel of
Thomas is most reliably dated no earlier than A.D. 140-170. It
contains 114 secret sayings of Jesus. Defenders of the Gospel of
Thomas include Walter Baur, Frederick Wisse, A. Powell Davies,
and Elaine Pagels.
Evaluation of the Credibility of the Gospel of Thomas
best way to evaluate the credibility of the Gospel of Thomas is
by way of comparison to the New Testament Gospels, which often
the same critics have grave doubts about. When this comparison
is made, the Gospel of Thomas comes up seriously short.
Canonical Gospels Are Much Earlier.
Assuming the widely accepted dates of the
Synoptic Gospels (ca. A.D. 60-80), the Gospel of Thomas falls
nearly a century short. Indeed, there is evidence of even
earlier dates for some Gospels, as even some liberal scholars
C. Edwards asserts of the Gospel of Thomas and the canonical
Gospels that "As historical reconstructions there is no way the
two can claim equal credentials."2 And Joseph
Fitzmyer adds, "Time and again, she is blind to the fact that
she is ignoring a good century of Christian existence in which
these Ďgnostic Christiansí were simply not around."3
Gospel of Thomas Is Dependent on the Canonical Gospels.
Even if the Gospel of Thomas could be shown to contain some
authentic statements of Jesus, "no convincing case has been made
that any given saying of Jesus in the Gospels depends on a
saying in the Gospel of Thomas."4 Rather, the reverse
is true since the Gospel of Thomas presupposes truths found
earlier in the canonical Gospels.
Gospel of Thomas Portrays a Second-Century Gnosticism.
The Gospel of Thomas is influenced by the
kind of Gnosticism prevalent in the second century. For
instance, it puts into the mouth of Jesus these unlikely and
demeaning words: "Every woman who will make herself male will
enter the Kingdom of Heaven."5
Gospel of Thomasís Lack of Narrative Does Not Prove Jesus Did No
Miracles. The fact that the
author(s) of the Gospel of Thomas did not include narratives of
Jesus does not mean they disbelieved in Jesusí miracles. The
book seems to be a collection of Jesusí sayings rather than his
Canonical Gospels Are More Historically Trustworthy.
There are numerous reasons why the New Testament Gospels are
more trustworthy than the Gnostic ones. First, the earliest
Christians were meticulous in preserving Jesusí words and deeds.
Second, the Gospel writers were close to the eyewitnesses and
pursued the facts (Luke 1:1-4). Third, there is good evidence
that the Gospel writers were honest reporters. Fourth, the
overall picture of Jesus presented in the Gospels is the same.
Basic New Testament Canon Was Formed in the First Century.
Contrary to claims of the critics,
the basic New Testament canon was formed in the first century.
The only books in dispute have no apologetic effect on the
argument for the reliability of the historical material used to
establish the deity of Christ.
New Testament itself reveals that a collection of books existed
in the first century. Peter speaks of having Paulís epistles (2
Peter 3:15-16). In fact, he considered them on a par with Old
Testament "Scripture." Paul had access to Lukeís Gospel, and
quotes it in 1 Timothy 5:18. The churches were instructed to
send their epistle on to other churches (Col. 4:16).
Beyond the New Testament, there are extrabiblical canonical
lists that support the existence of a New Testament canon.6
Indeed, all the Gospels and Paulís basic epistles are
represented on these lists. Even the heretical canon of the
Gnostic Marcion (ca. A.D. 140) had the Gospel of Luke and ten of
Paulís epistles, including 1 Corinthians.
Second-Century Fathers Support the Canonical Gospels.
The second-century Fathers cited a common body of books. This
includes all the crucial books that support the historicity of
Christ and his resurrection, namely, the Gospels, Acts, and 1
Corinthians. Clement of Roman (A.D. 95) cited the Gospels (Corinthians,
13, 42, 46). Ignatius (ca. 110-115) cited Luke 24:39 (Smyrnaeans
3). Polycarp (ca. 115) cited all the Synoptic Gospels (Philippians
2, 7). The Didache often cites the Synoptic Gospels (1,
3, 8, 9, 15-16). The Epistle of Barnabas (ca. 135) cites
Matthew 22:14). Papias (ca. 125-140) in the Oracles
speaks of Matthew, Mark (following Peter), and John (last) who
wrote Gospels. He says three times that Mark made no errors.
What is more, the Fathers considered the Gospels and Paulís
epistles to be on a par with the inspired Old Testament.
the Fathers vouched for the accuracy of the canonical Gospels in
the early second century, well before the Gospel of Thomas was
Resurrection Account. The Gospel
of Thomas does acknowledge Jesusí resurrection.
fact, the living, resurrected Christ himself speaks in it
(34:25-27; 45:1-16). True, it does not stress the resurrection,
but this is to be expected since it is primarily a sayings
source rather than historical narration. Furthermore, the
Gnostic theological bias against matter would downplay the
evidence for the authenticity of the Gospel of Thomas does not
even compare with that for the New Testament. The New Testament
dates from the first century; the Gospel of Thomas, the second.
The New Testament is verified by many lines of evidence,
including self-references, early canonical lists, thousands of
citations by the early Fathers, and the well-established dates
for the Synoptic Gospels.
Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Book House,
1999. Used with permission.)
1 John A. T. Robinson,
Redating the New Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster,
2 O. C. Edwards, New
Review of Books and Religion (May 1980), p. 27.
3 Joseph Fitzmyer,
America (February 16, 1980), p. 123.
4 Gregory Boyd, Jesus
Under Siege (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1995), p. 118.
5 Cited in Ibid., p.
See Norman L. Geisler
and William E. Nix, General Introduction to the Bible
(Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 294.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute