Ever Hear of the Gospel According to Thomas?
Look, a sower went out. He filled his hands (with seeds), (and) he scattered (them).
From the Gospel According to Thomas-Part 9
One of the most fascinating things I like to study in the history and creation of the New Testament. I know this may sound boring but hang in there. I just have a few boring things to point out before it gets interesting.
The New Testament is made up of twenty-seven books. All were written by 120AD. Depending on the denomination, the New Testament was completed from 392AD (Catholic) to the 1500s. (Protestant) So what we see today in our Bibles, we can take as authentic and God-breathed.
However, there are many and I mean many; stories surrounding the creation and development of each of the books. For me none is more exciting than the Gospel According to Thomas importance in helping create the four Gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In each of the Four Gospels, we have the story of Jesus’s life and his sayings. And all of these Gospels were written at least four decades after the crucifixion. So how accurate is the history and how reliable are the Gospels? Well considering the lack of written material from the first century in general, there actually is quite a lot written or orally known about Jesus that makes the Gospels reliable history.
One of the most important documents is called Quelle. It appears to be a document that contained the sayings of Jesus. However, it has never been found. So how do we know it exists? Well, we know through Biblical detective work that Quelle or some other source contributed a significant amount of material. Especially as it relates to Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Mark was written first, which scholars are sure of. Matthew and Luke wrote second and third. What is interesting is that almost all of Mark is in either Matthew or Luke. Both Matthew and Luke are considerably longer than Mark. As such, they contain significant additional material. The additional material appears in a very similar form in both Matthew and Luke. So it is likely from the same source. The best example of this is The Beatitudes, while most commonly associated with Matthew, is actually in Luke as well.
So where did this additional material come from? Well, many scholars believe from this Sayings document, called Quelle or Q. But I think, and there is some scholarly support for my belief, that the material that is thought of as Quelle, is actually Quelle and/or other documents. How much other, is likely unknown.
I come to this conclusion because of a little known and non-biblical document called The Gospel According to Thomas. An extensive book of sayings of Jesus.
What is most exciting about Thomas is that in 1945 its manuscript, dated around 60AD, was discovered in the Egyptian desert near Nag Hammadi.
This actually makes this document older than any of the four Gospels! And one of the very earliest documents that contain details about Jesus’s life. While its literary quality is far inferior to the four Gospels, it has an extensive list of the sayings of Jesus. Many of which we find in the four Gospels. By the way, the earliest discovered intact documents of the four Gospels weren’t found until the fourth century.
Today’s verse is from section 9 of The Gospel According to Thomas. In fact, you can click this hyperlink to read the entire book; Gospel According to Thomas.
Today’s verse is very similar to the beginning of one of Jesus’s most well-known Parables, The Parable of the Sower, which appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And, there are many other similar connections from Thomas to the four Gospels.
I discovered this document initially during my Doctoral studies. And knowing that Quelle was thought to have existed, but never found. I started to do more research. And that is when I discovered the actual text. Stunned to find many of the same sayings in The Gospel According to Thomas, are in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In fact, I wondered if this wasn’t the missing document Quelle.
After approaching my professor about this, he stated that others have come to the same conclusion, that some of what is the Gospels could have come from Thomas.
Okay, so what does mean and why is it important? Well, most importantly and very reassuring, this manuscript of Thomas adds a very strong layer of authenticity to the life of Jesus. Adding firmer and reliable information as to the real existence and purpose of Jesus.
So while we can’t find the document Quelle, we have found Thomas. It is incredibly important that archeologists actually found an intact document that existed prior to the writing of the four Gospels. Almost an independent validation of the New Testament.
Now we might ask if this document is so important, why isn’t it in the New Testament. The main reason is that it isn’t up to Biblical literary standards, it’s more of a listing than a story. While an authentic document and important for history, it is cumbersome, doesn’t flow well and a large part of its content has been inserted into the Gospels.
This doesn’t mean that Thomas isn’t valuable, it is! Of the 114 sayings in Thomas, over half are found in the Gospels. Thomas also is a very early Christian document, a very close eyewitness of the events of Jesus’s life. And it seems to me this later point is the real value of Thomas. It gets us very close to Jesus and his life. Further affirming he was real.
This story is only the tip of the iceberg in the stories of the creation of the New Testament. Many other writings exist, and many other stories exist. But the bottom line is that I believe all these events, manuscripts, and people who created the New Testament were through providential circumstances. So when I say God-breathed, this is what I mean. Providential circumstances created the Bible. Books like The Gospel According to Thomas created this history. Most stories in the creation of the New Testament, even if they are little known, are all part of God’s plan.
Blessings, until next time,
Bruce L. Hartman
Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash