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1st February, 2010

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The Gospel of Thomas strikes again

April DeConick is no intellectual slouch; as Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University, Texas, she qualifies as a true bluestocking. But, oh sister, what a classical example of the gulf that so often separates intelligence from clear thinking. She claims, for instance, that the apostle Paul "knew next to nothing about Jesus' life or teachings, and this didn't seem to matter one bit to him in terms of his faith which was based on a mystical experience and conversion". The evidence for this stance? She doesn't elaborate, so we must guess for ourselves; the reasoning must go something like this (putting it in syllogistic form):

•  Paul hardly ever quotes Jesus;
•  Paul had a vision/visions of Jesus (Acts 9:4-6, 1 Cor. 9:1);
•  Therefore, Paul was a mystic who neither knew much about Jesus nor did he care to know.

You've probably done enough study of logic and clear thinking to recognize faulty reasoning when you see it. Numerous factors could explain the infrequency of Paul's usage of Jesus' sayings; to assert the dearth proves ignorance on Paul's part entirely fails to convince. Note how Paul recited Jesus' words at the Last Supper word for word (1 Cor. 11:23-26). I'm not saying it would be hard to learn such sayings by rote, but his use of them shows that he did care and took them very seriously! How about Paul's 200 plus references to Jesus Christ and His saving work? Has she missed 1 Timothy 6:3?

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ . (1 Tim. 6:3).

Paul was acutely aware of Jesus' teachings. Not only that, Paul was quite happy at the prospect of his own death. Why? He knew that in the next instant of his consciousness he would be "with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). Why would he be happy to die if it meant being taken into the presence of someone he knew next to nothing about? Sorry, but it doesn't make a lick of sense.

With this background, believers need not take her critique, What's Up with the Gospel of Thomas?, in the latest issue of Biblical Archeology Review too much to heart. She criticizes the conservative view that the biblical canon is "old, trustworthy and sacred" as being naive and just plain wrong. She declares that, "New manuscript discoveries continually expand our knowledge of what was actually going on in antiquity", seeming to suggest that we need to add to the New Testament just about any old writings that talk about

Jesus Christ. In particular, she seems to be suggesting that we ought to take the Gospel of Thomas, a fourth century collection of alleged sayings of Jesus, as on a par with the received gospels for providing knowledge about Jesus. (See below for the first twenty sayings.)

Stop and think. Do the Harry Potter novels tell us what is "actually going on" in spooky locations in England? Just as is the case today, the world hundreds of years ago was awash with fairy stories, half-baked histories, political and religious propaganda and just about any other genre of literature you care to name. (If only they had the Internet!) The whole point of the canonization process was to decide what writings were genuine accounts of Jesus' life and sayings or were genuine documents of importance in the early church. Although the process has inspired much debate, most all believing scholars believe that it succeeded. The wheat was successfully separated from the chaff. Why should we today add the Gospel of Thomas - written hundreds of years after the other gospels - to the New Testament? As far as this writer is concerned, Prof DeConick gives not one solid reason in support of her contention other than the general proposition that everything ever written must shed some light on. well. whatever. Sure, Harry Potter novels tell us something about what is going on in the world today - people love fantasy. But who is going to accept it as representative of real life?

I for one would be delighted to hear of new discoveries that provide more information about the life and work of Jesus Christ. But the Gospel of Thomas? Let's get real. Read the sampling below for yourself. "How honored is the lion whom the human eats", indeed! Oh brother. We need not be intimidated by folly masquerading as scholarship:

The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken. Behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord; so what wisdom do they have? (Jer. 8:9).

You don't need to be a university professor yourself to reject nonsense that appears in respected (well, that's a bit of a controversy) journals such as Biblical Archeology Review under the guise of "scholarship". God has given every human being a brain to help them sort the wheat from the chaff, truth from error, fact from fiction. Sound-mindedness doesn't just happen, however. We have to make ourselves think, think, think, and train our own minds to analyze what we read and hear and not uncritically swallow everything others say. Let us get wisdom, and with all our getting get understanding.

The Gospel of Thomas

These are the secret sayings spoken by Jesus and transcribed by Didymos ("the twin") Judas Thomas. And he said, "The one who finds the interpretation of these sayings shall not taste death."

Jesus said, "Let the one who seeks not stop seeking until he finds;
and when he finds, he will be agitated.
When he is agitated, he will be amazed,
and he will rule over everything."

Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you, 'Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. But the Kingdom is inside you and outside you.
When you (truly) know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the Father.
But if you do not know yourselves, then you are impoverished-and you are poverty itself!

Jesus said, "The man old of days will not hesitate to ask the child seven days old concerning the place of life; and that one shall live. For many who are first shall be last and shall become a single one."

Jesus said, "Recognize what is before your face, and what is hidden from you will be revealed to you. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.

His disciples questioned him and said to him, Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shall we observe?"

Jesus said,
"Do not lie, and do not do what you hate, because all things are revealed before heaven. For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered that will remain without being disclosed."

Jesus said, "How honored is the lion whom the human eats, so that the lion becomes a human. And how dishonored is the human whom the lion eats, and the lion will become a human."

And he said, "The one is like a wise fisher who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisher discovered a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea, and without difficulty picked the large fish. Whoever has ears, listen!"

Jesus said, "Behold, a sower went out, took a handful [of seeds], and scattered. Some fell on the path, and the birds came and gathered them. Others fell on rock, and they did not root in the soil, and they did not produce heads of grain. Others fell among thorns, and they choked the seeds, and worms devoured them. And others fell on good soil, and it brought forth a good corp, yielding sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure."

Jesus said, "I have cast fire upon society; and behold, I am guarding it until it blazes."

Jesus said, "This heaven will pass, and the one above it will pass. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it alive. When you come to live in the light, what will you do? On the day you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?

The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you will leave us. Who will be our leader?"
Jesus said to them,
Wherever you are, you are to go to James the Just. For his sake heaven and earth came into being."

Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like."

Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a righteous angel."
Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."
Thomas said to him, "Master, my mouth is completely unable to say whom you are like."

Jesus said, "I am not your teacher. Because you have drunk, you have become drunk from the bubbling spring that I have tended." And he took him, went out, and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?"
Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the things he told me, you will pick up stones and hurl them at me. A fire will emerge from the stones and burn you up."

Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves. And if you pray, you will be condemned. And if you give alms, you will injure your spirits. When you enter any region and walk about in the countryside, when people take you in, eat what they serve you and heal those who are sick among them. For what goes into your mouth does not defile you; what comes out of your mouth will."

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

Jesus said, "Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace on the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflict upon the earth: fire, sword, war. For there will be five in a house: there will be three against two and two against three, father against son, and son against father, and they will stand alone."

Jesus said, "I will give you what no eye has seen and no ear has heard and no hand has touched and what has never risen in the human heart."

The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what our end will be like."

Jesus said, "Have you found the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is. How honorable is the one who stands at the beginning. That one will know the end and not taste death."

Jesus said, "Honorable is the one who came into being before coming into being. If you become my disciples and hear my words, 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."

The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what the Reign of Heaven is like."
He said to them, It is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds. But when it falls on tilled soil, it produces a large plant and becomes shelter for birds of the sky."

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