The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas (probably written in the late first century) was a lost work until 1945 when a Coptic version was discovered along with a cache of other Gnostic texts at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. Prior to that it was only known by the negative reference made to it by early Christian fathers and a few scraps of Greek text discovered at the turn of the 20thcentury. Declared heretical by the fathers, it was given a death sentence by excluding it from the approved canon. 

Thomas is a sayings gospel; Jesus said this, Jesus said that. Crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, miracle working, virgin birth and so forth are notable by their absence. The gospel contains 114 pithy sayings.[1] Its introduction fits well with the mystical nature of the sayings, described as secret, which Jesus passed along and disciple Didymos Judas Thomas recorded. Judas is Jesus’s brother Jude; not Judas the betrayer. The word “Didymos” derives from the Greek and means twin. The word “Thomas” derives from the Aramaic and also means twin. Taken at face value they indicate that Jesus had a twin-twin brother, i.e., identical twins. I’m not going there in this blog. I mention it only because it adds further mystery and mystique to a gospel that is already filled with mystery and mystique.

Saying # 1 goes like this: “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.” I don’t know about you but any teaching that speaks to avoiding death captures my attention. 

In Saying #3, Jesus refutes the Abrahamic religion notion of heaven as a physical place that is “up-there somewhere.” The “Father’s kingdom,” He says, “is within you and it is outside you.” In other words, it is a state of mind. This saying stresses that the person needs to “know yourself” which he or she will do once they accept the after-life as a mental state. Then they will recognize that everyone, not just Jesus, is a child of the living Father. The operative word here is “living.” It contrasts to the modern idea of a God who is stationary “up-there,” sitting apart in majestic glory on a courtroom throne, taking names. In the Abrahamic religions we pray to God and ask Him to send “down” His spirit. In Saying #3 we are taught that is a waste of time. God is not “up there.” In Thomas teachings, if you want to find God go look in the mirror and peer through the reflected form and find divine presence.

Saying #22 stresses the need to eliminate duality of thought; that is, to look through nature’s wide diversity of forms as perceived by the senses and find sameness; i.e., look through, not at. Thus, fat/skinny, short/tall, Negro/Caucasian, smart/ignorant and all other human experiences which manifest with polarity are reduced to sameness, the common ground being the primordial-ness from which everything comes. Here, Jesus specifically emphasizes the elimination of the male-female binary which is hard and fast ground of Abrahamic orthodoxy. He calls for a genderless society… “…make the male and the female into a single one so that the male will not be male nor the female be female.”  The teaching takes us back to the pre-Fall conditions of Genesis where, in 2:25, we are told that Adam and Eve were genderless. They were naked, “but they felt no shame.” In this saying Jesus goes on to tell us that if you eliminate dualistic thinking you will walk to the beat of a different drum. In His pithy style He tells us to adapt an entirely new way of thinking, where the eyes replace the eyes, a hand replaces a hand, a foot replaces a foot and an image replaces an image. In short, the non-dualistic person must learn to perceive the world from an entirely different perspective and recognize that all sense perception is false. Then he will find that abstract place called Heaven which is but really a state of mind.

The opening page of the Gospel of Thomas

What is it like to abide in non-dual thought. Picture in your mind the relative size of three categories of your favorite soft drink: small, medium and large. Now derive a description of medium when small and large do not exist. Or, try this. Develop a definition for the number 50 when the numbers 49 and 51 don’t exist. Can you sense that certain mental blank spot? It is like having dèja-vu and amnesia at the same time. That is the state of mind Jesus is speaking of where “Heaven” and “God” are found.

Saying #37 tells of the need to eliminate the notion of self. Self is the agency, a pure state of mind, that causes the person to think he or she is different than everything else that appears in the field of vision. Self must be eliminated if duality is to be overcome. Jesus takes an interesting approach in this saying. He tells the disciples that they will find Him, the model of perfect selflessness, when they strip naked in public without being ashamed. In other words, when they develop an attitude of what you think of me is none of my business. It connects with the notion of genderless-ness that is found in the Genesis creation story as mentioned earlier.

Jesus’s Thomas teachings are about attaining selflessness. When duality is eliminated a person’s perception of reality changes from “differentness” to “sameness.” In non-dual behavior everything just “is.” Self is the agent that makes us think we are different from everyone and everything around us. But, when everything just “is,” there is nothing for self to be different from. Therefore, it disappears, dying on the vine so to speak. Jesus taught selflessness in the Bible with the instruction to “do unto others as you would have them do into you.” The teaching is found in Matthew 7:12 with variants in Mark 12:31 and Luke 10:27. With multiple attestation we can be reasonably sure it is something He actually said. I submit that it is impossible to “do unto others….” unless the one being done unto is received as the same as the one doing the doing. Otherwise, very natural survival instincts will kick in and the “after me you come first” syndrome will take control.

Elsewhere (# 29) Jesus notes of the marvel of marvels when the human body transforms to spirit. Here He is speaking of the rainbow body phenomenon found in Tibetan Buddhism.

Finally, in Saying #14 He speaks to the folly of religion, warning that fasting, prayer and charity will work to one’s disadvantage. Life is a mind game. Religion distracts from it. Religion’s doctrinal style doesn’t contribute to a mind development objective.

The Gospel of Thomas is a Westernized version of the Tibetan Buddhist yogic practice of Dzogchen. Dzogchen is known to produce rainbow body. Unfortunately, the transformation from form to formless that Jesus’s body underwent on the first Easter Sunday was declared a resurrection of His body—a miracle— effectively putting it out of reach of the common person. The Gospel of Thomas is a do-it-yourself handbook (no priestly intermediaries required) for transforming the human body to the spirit realm. But, by excluding it from the Bible, it too was put out of reach of the common person. It is unfortunate, indeed tragic, that a distant culture, considered ignorant by Western norms, brought Jesus’s teachings to life and demonstrated the reality of eternal life in the here and now while they were discarded from the very religion that developed around Him. The world would be a very different place had that not happened.

[1] Devins, J. Thomas, Christianity’s Dirty Little Secrets-The Truth About Resurrection, The Rainbow Body, Resurrection and Reality, Self Published through LuLu Publishing, 2020, pp.76-87

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