The Fifth Gospel – Better Than The Rest? Part One

Thomas Manuscript Image

Courtesy BAS Library

Robert Funk, The Jesus Seminar and Westar Institute would have us believe that the Gospel of Thomas is the 5th Gospel account of the life of Jesus – and may be more accurate than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Are they right?

In our previous series about the Jesus Seminar, we saw that the seminar “scholars and specialists” determined the vast majority of the sayings and deeds of Jesus from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are NOT authentic –

“Eighty-two percent of the words ascribed to Jesus in the gospels were not actually spoken by him, according to the Jesus Seminar.” Robert Funk, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, HarperOne, 1996, p 5

They also differentiate between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith.

“The church appears to smother the historical Jesus by superimposing this heavenly figure on him in the creed: Jesus is displaced by the Christ, as the so-called Apostles’ Creed makes evident … the figure in this creed is a mythical or heavenly figure, whose connection with the sage from Nazareth is limited to his suffering and death under Pontius Pilate.” Robert Funk, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, HarperOne, 1996, p 7

The five Gospels in The Five Gospels are listed in this order –

  1. Mark
  2. Matthew
  3. Luke
  4. John
  5. Thomas

We know what the Jesus Seminar determined about the traditional Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), but what about Thomas? Why did Funk and other leaders of the ‘seminar’ believe it was important to designate the Gospel of Thomas as a “fifth” Gospel account of the life of Jesus?

“A significant new independent source of data for the study of the historical Jesus is the Gospel of Thomas. The Coptic translation of this document, found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, has enabled scholars to identify three Greek fragments, discovered earlier, as pieces of three different copies of the same gospel. Thomas contains one hundred and fourteen sayings and parables ascribed to Jesus; it has no narrative framework: no account of Jesus’ trial, death,  and resurrection; no birth or childhood stories; and no narrated account of his public ministry in Galilee and Judea.

The Gospel of Thomas has proved to be a gold mine of comparative material and new information. Thomas has forty-seven parallels to Mark, forty parallels to Q, seventeen to Matthew, four to Luke, and five to John. About sixty-five sayings or parts of sayings are unique to Thomas.” Robert Funk, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, HarperOne, 1996, p 15

Who is the “Thomas” of the Gospel of Thomas?

“The Gospel of Thomas is attributed to Didymus Judas Thomas, who was revered in the Syrian church as an apostle (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13; cf. John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2) and as the twin brother of Jesus (as claimed so by the Acts of Thomas, a third-century C.E. work). The attribution to Thomas may indicate where this gospel was written, but it tells us nothing about the author.” Robert Funk, The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?, HarperOne, 1996, p 20

Gospel Q?

Before we move on with the Gospel of Thomas, let’s look at Funk’s comment about Thomas having forty parallels to Q. What is Q?

Funk and his team wrote that Q was a source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. If true, it would seem important to look at Q to see what’s in it. There’s just one problem – there’s no evidence Q ever existed. None of the early Church fathers ever mentioned anything like a “Q” gospel. Nothing has been found in writing that would support the claim that Q was written or oral tradition. Nothing.

It appears as if someone just made up the whole idea of a Q gospel source, but let’s dig a little deeper to see why many people believe Q was a source for Matthew and Luke and be sure we’re not missing something.

Why the name Q? It comes from the German word quelle, which means “source.”

Why make up something like Q?

Many people believe that Matthew, Mark and Luke, known as the Synoptic Gospels, have so many similarities they must have copied other writings. That has led to some hypotheses concerning this alleged copying –

The Two-Source Hypothesis has been around since the 19th century. The theory is that the Gospel of Mark was a primary source for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and that a collection of oral traditions about Christ, known as Q, were also a source for Matthew and Luke.

The Three-Source Hypothesis has also been around since the 19th century. The theory is that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source and that Luke also used Matthew as a source. Q may have also been involved as a source.

The Four-Source Hypothesis is a theory from the early 20th century that expanded on the Two-Source Hypothesis. The Four-Source theory is that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke had at least four sources: Gospel of Mark, Q, M-Source, and L-Source.

M-Source? L-Source? What’s that?

M-Source is a hypothetical source for the Gospel of Matthew. It’s supposed to be special material not from Mark or Q.

L-source is a hypothetical source for the Gospel of Luke. It’s supposed to be special material not from Mark or Q.

Any evidence for Q, M-Source or L-Source? None. The idea for all of them is that they were oral traditions that Matthew and Luke used as sources for their Gospel accounts. The problem is that Q, M-Source and L-Source have no evidence to support their existence.

So, then, why would anyone make up theories with no evidence at all? Glad you asked.

The “scholars” who put forth these theories believed that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were written after 70 AD, so Matthew, Mark and Luke, the people prior to 70 AD, could not have written them.

The theory continues.

Members of the Jesus Seminar and others theorize that since the real authors of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke were not first-hand witnesses, they would have to use other sources for what Jesus had said and did decades earlier.

They believe that since Mark is the shortest Gospel account and had the least amount of material that was original, Mark must have been the first Gospel and the authors of Matthew and Luke used Mark as a primary source. They also believe that since Matthew and Luke have similar content that is not in Mark, there must have been another source. That source, they believe, was Q.

What many members of the Jesus Seminar and Westar Institute do not believe is that the supernatural Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Gospels. That’s a clue to why they came up with other sources for the Gospel accounts. If you don’t believe in God, then God couldn’t possibly be involved. Right? So they think.

The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas does exist. It is part of the Nag Hammadi library that contains ten codices discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. The Gospel of Thomas is part of Codex II –

“These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded.” Gospel of Thomas, Translated by Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer

What follows are 114 supposed sayings of Jesus. Here is the first “saying” –

“And he said, ‘Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.”

Here is the last “saying” of the 114 –

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I will guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven.”

Does that not sound like something the New Testament Jesus would say? Here are some other examples from the Gospel of Thomas –

“Jesus said, ‘Lucky is the lion that the human will eat, so that the lion becomes human. And foul is the human that the lion will eat, and the lion still will become human.” #7

“Jesus said, ‘Look, the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered (them). Some fell on the road, and the birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and they didn’t take root in the soil and didn’t produce heads of grain. Others fell on thorns, and they choked the seeds and worms ate them. And others fell on good soil, and it produced a good crop: it yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure.” #9

“The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.” #12

“Jesus said, ‘Congratulations to the one who came into being before coming into being. If you become my disciples and pay attention to my sayings, these stones will serve you. For there are five trees in Paradise for you; they do not change, summer or winter, and their leaves do not fall. Whoever knows them will not taste death.” #19

“Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, ‘These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father’s) kingdom.’ They said to him, ‘Then shall we enter the (Father’s) kingdom as babies?’ Jesus said to them, ‘When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].” #22

“Jesus said, ‘Where there are three deities, they are divine. Where there are two or one, I am with that one.” #30

“Jesus said, ‘This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. During the days when you ate what is dead, you made it come alive. When you are in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one, you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?” #11

Many of the “sayings” in the Gospel of Thomas don’t sound like the sayings of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but some have similarities –

“The disciples said to Jesus, ‘Tell us what Heaven’s kingdom is like.’ He said to them, ‘It’s like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, but when it falls on prepared soil, it produces a large plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky.” #20

“Jesus said, ‘You see the sliver in your friend’s eye, but you don’t see the timber in your own eye. When you take the timber out of your own eye, then you will see well enough to remove the sliver from your friend’s eye.” #26

“Jesus said, ‘No prophet is welcome on his home turf; doctors don’t cure those who know them.” #31

“Jesus said, ‘If a blind person leads a blind person, both of them will fall into a hole.” #34

“Jesus said, ‘Seek and you will find. In the past, however, I did not tell you the things about which you asked me then. Now I am willing to tell them, but you are not seeking them.” #92

The theology that comes out of reading the Gospel of Thomas does not align with the theology of other writings that are part of the New Testament Canon. In fact, Thomas aligns better with gnostic writings of the 2nd century. Many gnostic themes are found in Thomas –

  • Jesus is a wise teacher, divine, but not necessarily human
  • Jesus is not the promised messiah of the Old Testament
  • Many gods exist
  • The Kingdom of God is “internal”
  • The physical body is evil, spiritual is good
  • People are saved by learning secret knowledge and looking inward

Next Time

In the next part of our study, we’ll look at when Thomas was written and if we can get a better idea about whether the Apostle Thomas was the real author.

Faith&SelfDefense

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