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I've seen in a few places the Gospel of Thomas described as Gnostic and thus heretical. I've seen people dismiss it as heretical but never going into the details of why that is the case. Why is the gospel of Thomas considered heretical?

I have read the text, it seemed quite interesting to me, shares much of the material from other gospel texts and as the form is a sayings gospel leaves much to interpretation; I don't think it would be difficult for even pretty stringently orthodox people to interpret it to their satisfaction. Although you could construe it in a number of ways, you could say that for lots of works that are considered canonical. It certainly doesn't seem any more different from the synoptic gospels than is the Gospel of John. The dating might be questionable but that doesn't make it doctrinally unsound surely otherwise Ephesians could not be canonical. The only saying that even seems to hint at gnosticism to me is 114 and that is known to be a later addition to the text.

To be clear I'm referring to the sayings gospel not the infancy gospel.

  • I am going to have to ask you where you saw it was heretical (except in the movies) and who declared it heretical. As for gnostic ... everything is gnostic depending on what you want the word to mean. I saw little special in it and some really weird stuff that seems to have been adopted by Islam. – gideon marx Oct 9 '14 at 17:36
  • @gideonmarx: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Thomas#Attestation – Flimzy Oct 9 '14 at 19:09
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    Please see Chief differences between canonical and apocryphal gospels in Gospel and Gospels | New Advent. – user13992 Oct 9 '14 at 20:11
  • @giddeonmarx I have never seen any mention of the Gospel of Thomas in a movie. Any good? Title? I've encountered it mostly on other websites. Also it seems that various early Christians like Irenaeus seem to have railed against them - there is some mention of this in a book I read a few years back "The Apocryphal Gospels: A Very Short Introduction". Anyway, I've never found what I could think of as a complete argument on the subject. So I posted it on here. – Reluctant_Linux_User Oct 9 '14 at 22:16
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Wikipedia does a good job of summarizing the heresy, but I want to pull out some source material.

Some of the sayings do attest to the synpotic Gospels, but there is a lot of heresy in there too:

From the top, selected parts of The Gospel of Thomas:

These are the secret sayings that the living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. 1. And he said, "Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death."

Gnostics were all about "special knowledge." That's where the word comes from: Gnosis - to know. Orthodox Christianity tends to find "secret knowledge" repugnant.

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?"

This eschataology differs significantly.

  1. Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to something and tell me what I am like." Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a just messenger." Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher." Thomas said to him, "Teacher, my mouth is utterly unable to say what you are like." Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring that I have tended." And he took him, and withdrew, and spoke three sayings to him. When Thomas came back to his friends they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?" Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the sayings he spoke to me, you will pick up rocks and stone me, and fire will come from the rocks and devour you."

More secret knowledge, and an implication that Jesus is merely a teacher, nothing more.

  1. Jesus said, "When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father."

Docetism

22 ... 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]."

Matter is evil according to gnostics, and the implication here is that matter cannot enter into the kingdom

  1. "If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the (Father's) kingdom. If you do not observe the sabbath as a sabbath you will not see the Father."

Legalism, and anti-materialism

  1. Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, that is a marvel, but if spirit came into being because of the body, that is a marvel of marvels.Yet I marvel at how this great wealth has come to dwell in this poverty."

More anti-materialism

  1. His disciples said, "When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?" Jesus said, "When you strip without being ashamed, and you take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample them, then [you] will see the son of the living one and you will not be afraid."

Gnostics were antinomian as a result of their anti-materialism. This would be a kind of that.

  1. Jesus said, "The Pharisees and the scholars have taken the keys of knowledge and have hidden them. They have not entered nor have they allowed those who want to enter to do so.

More secret knowledge

  1. Jesus said, "If they say to you, 'Where have you come from?' say to them, 'We have come from the light, from the place where the light came into being by itself, established [itself], and appeared in their image.'If they say to you, 'Is it you?' say, 'We are its children, and we are the chosen of the living Father.'If they ask you, 'What is the evidence of your Father in you?' say to them, 'It is motion and rest.'"

  2. Jesus said, "Whoever has come to know the world has discovered a carcass, and whoever has discovered a carcass, of that person the world is not worthy."

More anti-materialism

  1. Jesus said, "I disclose my mysteries to those [who are worthy] of [my] mysteries.

More secret knowledge

  1. Jesus said, "Whoever has come to know the world has discovered the body, and whoever has discovered the body, of that one the world is not worthy."

  2. Jesus said, "Images are visible to people, but the light within them is hidden in the image of the Father's light. He will be disclosed, but his image is hidden by his light."

  3. Jesus said, "When you see your likeness, you are happy. But when you see your images that came into being before you and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will have to bear!"

  4. Jesus said, "How miserable is the body that depends on a body, and how miserable is the soul that depends on these two."

More anti-materialism


Do you see a pattern here?

Gnostics believe the body is inherently and irredeemably evil. Therefore, it doesn't matter what the body does - only your spirit matters. That is the heart of the antinomian heresy that Gnostics teach.

Beyond this, yes, there is a lot of repetition of the Synoptic Gospels - after all Gnostics thought they were Christians too. But the innovative parts of Thomas are the parts that orthodox Christians either thought "meh" or heresy.

That's why it never made the canon.

  • I've upvoted, but note that 39 is an example of repetition not actually innovation. – bruised reed Oct 9 '14 at 19:56
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    @Reluctant_Linux_User Paul is using 'flesh' as a codeword for our sinful natures. Orthodox Christianity strongly affirms the goodness of matter and the body. – curiousdannii Oct 9 '14 at 22:39
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    I said Paul was using it as a code word. Most of the negative references to flesh are by Paul, whereas John and Luke aren't using it negatively. – curiousdannii Oct 9 '14 at 22:56
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    You really have moved on to a new question. Comments are not chat :) please ask a new question if you want to get to the heart of this, and check out what others say about Gnosticism. 2. Yes, in practice the church tends to call out the body as evil, but if you read the creeds, you will see this isn't what the original church taught. You are conflating things. – Affable Geek Oct 9 '14 at 23:14
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    It would be wholly on topic. That's what we do here: we used established sources of theology to answer questions like that. When I suggest the Nicene Christianity bit, I'm helping to scope it for you, so that people don't try to close it as a "truth question " if you want a good intro to what we do, check out how are we different than other sites and welcome aboard! – Affable Geek Oct 9 '14 at 23:34

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