The Book of Thomas is a book from the New Testament that is part of the Gnostic Gospels. It was written by a follower of Jesus who was not named Thomas, but who may have been named Judas Thomas.
The Book of Thomas begins with a prologue that explains that the writer has discovered these sayings of Jesus in the desert and has decided to write them down so they would not be lost. The book then moves into a series of sayings by Jesus and ends with an epilogue telling readers that this is “the secret discourse which the savior spoke, [and] which he taught to his disciples privately…” (2:1-3).
Most scholars believe that this work was not written by Thomas himself, but rather by one of his followers after his death. However, some scholars believe that it may have been written by someone else named Judas Thomas (whoever he may have been) and only later attributed to Thomas for some unknown reason.
What Is the Gospel of Thomas?
The Gospel of Thomas, as well as other books in the pseudepigrapha, failed this canonicity test and, therefore, did not earn a place in the Bible. We run into a group of writings known as the pseudepigrapha.
What is the Gospel of Thomas?
We may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas before and wondered why we never saw that book listed in our Bibles.
This is due to the fact that the Gospel of Thomas doesn’t belong in the canon of Scripture. Canon, in other words, means the books which are believed to be divinely inspired, using a series of tests to prove they deserve to be included in the Bible.
The Gospel of Thomas, as well as other books in the pseudepigrapha, failed this canonicity test and, therefore, did not earn a place in the Bible.
Why did scholars reject the Gospel of Thomas? Who wrote this gospel? How does this so-called gospel differ from Scripture? And why does this matter?
We’ll dive into these questions and more.
Who Wrote the Gospel of Thomas?
Hint: it wasn’t Thomas.
As stated in the Bible Study Tools article, we run into a group of writings known as the pseudepigrapha. In other words, writers would adopt the name of a famous follower of Jesus (or famous figure from the New Testament) to have a certain sway over audiences.
After all, people would listen better to a gospel written by a follower of Christ rather than a book written by some Joe who lived several centuries after the time that Jesus had lived. They often contained propaganda from non-Christian religions or ideas, such as Gnosticism, a heresy that essential lessens the deity of Christ, along with promoting some other unbiblical ideas.
The Gospel of Thomas stands as no exception. Unless he happened to live until AD 200 when scholars have traced the origin of the document, the disciple named Thomas who followed Jesus most certainly did not write it.
And even if by some implausible reason he did, Thomas seriously misunderstood Jesus’ purpose, mission, and gospel.
Although we don’t know who wrote it, we do know that in the 114 so-called sayings of Jesus in this book, it also promotes ideas of Gnosticism, pantheism, and anti-women. This article provides a better overview of some of the distinct differences between the canonical Gospel and the Gospel of Thomas, but we’ll dive into a few of them here.
Differences Between the Gospel of Thomas and the Actual Gospel
Difference #1: The Gospel of Thomas is anti-women.
The Gospel of Thomas goes as far as to say that in order for Mary to be “worthy of life” Jesus has to essentially make her a male (114).
The actual gospel looks far different. Jesus saw value in women, such as the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), Mary Magdalene (Mark 15:40), and the women of the New Testament, who played an important role in the Early Church, serving as deacons, preaching the gospel, etc.
Difference #2: The Gospel of Thomas promotes secret knowledge.
Unlike the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus makes the message of the gospel clear. That he came to die and resurrect, to save sinners, and offer a pathway to eternal life (John 3:16).
The Gospel of Thomas, like a cult or secret society, promotes the idea that followers of Jesus have to attain certain enlightenment through uncovering secrets, undiscoverable by most men (3, 39, 70).
Difference #3: The Gospel of Thomas Promotes the Gnostic idea that the body is bad, and the spirit is good.
During the first few centuries in the church, a heretical idea floated around that our physical bodies are essentially bad at best and that we should only focus on matters of the spirit.
They seemed to have forgotten that God had given us our bodies as gifts and that bodies will be resurrected (Luke 24:39). Therefore, if God sees something worth resurrecting, it is not inherently evil.
Discernment of the Gospel of Thomas
We obviously don’t see many people touting the Gospel of Thomas in church, but we do have to be sure to be in Scripture daily. Although some of the ideas in the Gospel of Thomas may seem silly (like the fact Jesus had to make Mary a man), the ideas spewed in this book would’ve sounded extremely similar to the gospel for those in the Church during the second and third century AD.
If they didn’t spend an ample amount of time in the Scripture, they would’ve been possibly led astray by this false teaching.
In the same way, we have to exercise extreme discernment. Satan likes to twist the truth just ever so slightly, so our ears get tricked by it.
No doubt, every church in history has had to battle some heretical ideas, ours stands at no exception.
So be on guard and spend time in Scripture every day.