Doubting the Gospel of Thomas: A Response

Doubting the Gospel of Thomas: A Response

ollowing a recent debate in which I defended the Q Document hypothesis (abbreviated, Q) by citing the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas (abbreviated, GTh)[1] as possible evidence which strengthens, if not confirms, the Q hypothesis[2] I seemingly ruffled a few Evangelical Christian feathers, although I don’t see why it would.
During my argumentation regarding both Q and GTh with a Christian apologist, who in orthodox fashion denies both the veracity of the Q hypothesis and the relevancy of the Gospel of Thomas, he wrote a rebuttal to the information I provided. This is my response to his article “Doubting the Gospel of Thomas.”
In this article, I will be offering commentary to his comments, taking issue with the points he raises, as well as with the poorly sourced arguments he attempts. Then I will offer a proper defense for the integrity of the GTh as being on par with the Synoptic Gospel tradition as an early first century source, and as an independent source for additional insights into early Christianity and the teachings of Jesus.
—Advocatus Atheist
[Author’s Note: Advocatus Atheist commentary in red.]

While involved in internet argumentation in another forum over the weekend, the subject of the so-called "Gospel of Thomas" came up. Usually such canards as this are propagated by skeptics and unbelievers in a vain attempt to discredit Holy Scripture in sort of an "Ah-hah, Gotcha!" moment by suggesting that other written gospels exist that are in some way comparable to the widely accepted Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

[Advocatus Atheist: Perhaps I should fill the reader in on the main discussion we were having; it was primarily on the canonization of scripture. I merely suggested that due to the fact that The Gospel of Thomas is at least as old as the Synoptic tradition, perhaps earlier (as we’ll discuss below), then Christians need to account for the similarity in over half of the 114 of the sayings of Jesus which Thomas shares with the Gospels and Johannine sayings.

Originally, when I first mentioned the GTh it was in support of Q, since Q addresses the ‘synoptic problem’ and also seems to hint at GTh as a possible independent source which may add support for a historical Jesus tradition. I don’t quite see how using GTh (if truly an independent source pre-dating the Gospels) to establish that Jesus was a real historical figure, is in anyway a canard. In fact one would have to question the agenda of any Christian who’d deny the GTh as evidence which supports the claim that Jesus of the Bible may have actually been a real historical person—even as such a claim is on shaky ground.[3] Although the authenticity of the Jesus sayings of GTh may be in dispute, it should not go overlooked that so are the Jesus attributed sayings in all of the Gospels.[4] So the debate cannot simply be about the authenticity of the sayings, as any decent historian would remind us.

Meanwhile, the statement that GTh is used as a means to discredit the Gospel, to me, is simply a nonsensical statement. What would it discredit exactly? Would it discredit the inherent truth found within or simply disprove the material as historically reliable? The only thing referring to the GTh could discredit about the Gospels is the fact that the Gospels were not divinely inspired (a difficult fact for the true believer) because of the incontestable sharing between them, or that the Gospels themselves may have borrowed heavily from other sources and traditions (which seems to be the case). Today’s Christians find such a notion heretical and are the first to dismiss it, yet this is what the evidence depicts, so to dismiss it off hand seems to be impetuous, not to mention such a display of blind faith suffers from a distinct lack of clear, thoughtful, objectivity.

Either way, to show that the Gospels simply cannot be relied upon to paint a historically accurate picture of past events doesn’t require referral to any extrabiblical text since they do a good job of discrediting themselves.[5] The irrefutable disagreement and conflict between pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is enough to send up red flags for anyone with a critical eye. Christians often deny Biblical errancy outright, but this devotional conviction flies in the face of good scholarly research and, at the same time, shows a confirmation bias which would not get them very far in the field of Biblical studies. In order to be as objective as possible the historian must put his prejudice aside when scrutinizing a text in order to avoid any confirmation bias which may impede his impartiality.

If one cannot do this, then their opinion is always going to match the institutions conventional opinion—even if it should be wholly inaccurate or altogether wrong. Devotional proclamations, such as the one above, should remain in Sunday school as they have no place in the field of historical biblical studies.]

The story usually goes that such writings were on the same par as the synoptic Gospels along with that of John, however due to some sort of "embarrassing information" contained in them, they were later suppressed in order to maintain the uniformity of the other gospel accounts.

[Advocatus Atheist: Clarification of what is intended by the colloquialism “on par” is needed. Support for what the author means by “embarrassing information” is needed.]

When Wayne Jackson of the Christian Courier was presented with the idea that the Gospel of Thomas was somehow "authentic" he had
this to say about it...

"Authentic”? In what sense? Certainly not “authentic” in the sense that the “Gospel of Thomas” carries the same credibility as the canonical Gospel records Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is considerable evidence that the document that is called the “Gospel of Thomas” was not authored by the apostle who bore that name.

[Advocatus Atheist: First of all, an online journalist for a Christian publication is not an unbiased or scholarly source and should not be cited for support. Secondly, Wayne Jackson points out the obvious by making the statement that the GTh was not authored by the apostle who bore the name. What Jackson seems to forget, however, is that none of the Gospels were either! Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not authored by the apostles either. If Jackson is trying to discredit the GTh as an unreliable historical source for early Christian tradition, then he has set up an unfair double standard. It seems his criteria for historical trustworthiness is anything which conforms to Christian orthodoxy—anything else is deemed heretical—and so untrustworthy. It appears that Jackson’s opinion is anything found to be heretical cannot be considered historically reliable. This blunder alone rules out his opinion on what is and is not historically reliable. Instead, we must rely on the qualified historians to gain our insights into matters.]

What are the facts relative to this ancient text that has caused such a sensation in recent years?"

Compiled in the Second Century
"In 1945, an archaeological excavation at Nag Hammadi in Central Egypt yielded a collection of 13 papyrus codices (books) totaling over 1,100 pages. One of these contained the “Gospel of Thomas” in the Coptic language. In this form it dates from about A.D. 350.

However, the original work apparently is older since three Greek papyri from the Oxyrhynchus collection (c. A.D. 150) contain fragments of the narrative. It is thus believed that the original “Gospel of Thomas” was compiled about A.D. 140, probably in Edessa, Syria. Some scholars push the date a little later (A.D. 150-200).

There is no evidence that this work existed in the first century, even though those associated with the bogus “Jesus Seminar” so allege."

[Advocatus Atheist: Jackson’s qualifications notwithstanding, most official historians agree that the GTh is at least a first century work, which later got added to, thus the Gospel of Thomas does contain later work shared with all four Gospels. Even so, Thomas is markedly a first century work. For starters, Stevan Davies, Stephen Patterson, John H. Morison, among others, all agree that Thomas is a legitimate first century work. How do we know this?

Mainly, the reason we can know this is because of the Oxyrhynchus find in Egypt (1897; 1903), in which three ancient Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas were unearthed. Although the textual source for the sayings was originally unclear, due to the deteriorated status of the 5,000 some fragments, the Nag Hammadi discovery in 1945—which discovered a complete version of Thomas in Coptic—made it possible to identify the three surviving papyri of the Oxyrhynchus fragments as an earlier Greek edition of the Gospel of Thomas.

Professor John Morison, of New Testament Studies at Harvard Divinity School, states, “So we cannot with certainty reconstruct what did the Gospel of Thomas look like around the year 100 or earlier. But it is very likely that it existed at that time, and that a good deal of the material that’s now in that manuscript was already in a Greek manuscript that dates back to the first century.”[6]

True enough, the Oxyrhynchus fragments of Thomas date to around 130 C.E., and is further qualified by the reconstruction work, and interlinear translations of the Greek, by Andrew Bernhard. I would like to remind the reader that 130 C.E. is the date of a completed Greek manuscript, whereas the Gospel of John, by comparison, is dated at around 170 C.E.]

Yes indeed Mr Jackson. And in support of this information, Dr. Craig Evans (PhD) of Acadia University, had this to say about the later dating of Thomas. When told that "John Dominic Crossan says that the current text emerged about 60 or 70 [A.D.], but that an earlier edition goes back as far as the 50's. If they're right, that means that Thomas has really early material. Are they wrong?" Dr. Evans replied...

"They're wrong for several reasons," he said.... Thomas has too much New Testament in it. Not only that, Thomas doesn't have any early pre-Synoptic material. Thomas has forms that reflect the later developments in Luke and Matthew... Matthew and Luke sometimes improve upon Mark's grammar and word choice. Mark is not real polished in Greek grammar and style, while Matthew and Luke are much more so. And in the Gospel of Thomas we find these more polished Matthew and Luke forms of the sayings of Jesus. So Thomas isn’t referring to earlier Mark, but to the later Matthew and Luke. We also find references to the special material that's found only in Matthew and only in Luke, both of which scholars think is later, not earlier.

And Thomas has material from the Gospel of John. How can Thomas be written in the 50's and 60's but still have Johannine material that doesn't get written down till the 90's?"

[Advocatus Atheist: The consensus in American scholarship, I think you’ll find, is that the GTh is a text independent of the synoptics and that it was compiled in the mid to late first century. Supporting this view are the biblical historians J.H. Sieber, C. Hedrick, R. Cameron, Bradley McLean, Lance Owens, Stevan L. Davies, and most notably Stephen Patterson. I can’t help but have the sneaking suspicion that Craig Evans’ easy dismissal of Thomas as a first century work, something the community of biblical scholars seem to agree upon, is perhaps somehow influenced by his devotional convictions and not dependent on any reliable support. Since the consensus is, in point of fact, in support of the early origins of GTh and holds that it was written in around, or even before, 70 C.E., it might behoove Evans to take a second look and re-examine the work of his colleagues and peers. Oddly enough, the fact that Thomas is independent, not relying on synoptic or pre-synoptic sources, actually supports the early dating of the material.[7] Evans has inadvertently contradicted himself!

Stephen Patterson argues persuasively that there are no good reasons to believe that any of the synoptic gospels served as a source for Thomas. Patterson observes:
While the cumulative nature of sayings collection understandably makes the Gospel of Thomas difficult to date with precision, several factors weigh in favor of a date well before the end of the first century: the way which Thomas appeals to the authority of particular prominent figures (Thomas, James) against the competing claims of others (Peter, Matthew); its genre, the sayings collections, which seems to have declined in importance after the emergence of the more biographical and dialogical forms near the end of the first century; and its primitive Christology, which seems to presuppose a theological climate more primitive even than the later sayings of the synoptic sayings gospel, Q. Together these factors suggest a date for Thomas in the vicinity of 70-80 C.E.[8]
Meanwhile, Dr. Lance Owens chimes in with further support, adding:
Reference to James as an authoritative figure in saying 12 of the Gospel of Thomas has caused difficulty for scholars attempting to date the Gospel’s composition to a period after the first century. The community of James, historical associated with Jerusalem, ceased to exist after the roman destruction of Palestine around 70 C.E. If the text of the Gospel of Thomas was produced subsequent to that date, or if the version we now possess underwent later redactions with intent of conforming the text to theological and sociological views of a period foreign to the earliest formative years of Christianity, then why was this authoritative reference to James retained in the twelfth logion? And if the saying indeed dates to the earliest decades of Christian tradition, what significance does reference to James hold for the interpretive readings of the Gospel?[9]
Indeed, there is no evidence of redaction in the GTh, and with certain key passages we have clues which strongly hint at Thomas being composed before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as Morison, Patterson, and Owens have all observed. So Evans and Jackson are both clearly mistaken.

What about the Johannine sayings connection? This too has been explained, and Evans would know this if he actually looked into any of the historical research done on the Thomas tradition.[10] Dr. Alexander Mirkovic has focused on research establishing the sharing between Thomas and the later Johannine works, and has clarified the issue by stating, “The Gospel of Thomas was written about the same time as the canonical gospels, since it does not presuppose the developed Gnostic cosmogony we know from the Gnostic writings of the second century. It is a collection of saying like the Proverbs, Ben Sira, or the Wisdom of Solomon.”[11] ]

And this is just the beginning of the problems for Thomas. Mr. Jackson next brings up...

[Advocatus Atheist: Actually, we’ve come across no real problems thus far. Only apologists are stuck with a heap of irreconcilable problems on this issue of Thomas’s influence on the Gospels and of the authenticity of the Gospels themselves.]

Beware of “secret sayings”
“Thomas” consists of a collection of 114 “sayings of Jesus,” that are supposed to be a “secret” revelation the Lord gave to the apostle Thomas. That “secret” business itself ought to be a red flag!

Some of these sayings repeat the words of Christ from the canonical Gospel accounts. About 40 of them are entirely new. Most scholars believe that the “Gospel of Thomas” is significantly contaminated with the ancient heretical philosophy known as Gnosticism (Cameron, p. 539)."

[Advocatus Atheist: According to Jackson, the Gnostic Gospel According to Thomas is a Gnostic text. I don’t know if he’s trying to be funny or what, but I’m not amused. It is sort of like saying that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are Gospels. And how can a Gnostic text be “contaminated” with Gnosticism? Is that like a Gospel source being “contaminated” with Gospelism? He might as well state that he read the Gospels but found too much Christianity in it. Jackson is a funny guy—but he shouldn’t quit his day job (as a journalist for the Christian Courier) anytime soon—because as a historian he just doesn’t cut it.]

Dr. Evans describes the concept of salvation in Thomas thusly...
"Salvation is not perhaps exactly the way it is in the other Gnostic texts, but it's pretty close... It comes from self-knowledge, from understanding oneself authentically, and recognizing where one fits into the cosmos, as well as repudiating and not getting caught up with this world. So it's slightly Christian, slightly Old Testament, slightly Gnostic."

Anybody with even a passing familiarity with the New Testament knows that this is not the process of salvation described there.

[Advocatus Atheist: Both Evans and our Christian apologist are, surprisingly, correct. Gnosticism is clearly not mainstream Orthodox Christianity. This is the third time they’ve pointed out the banally obvious. Gnosticism stems from the root gnosis (Greek for knowledge). In theological writings gnosis is the higher knowledge of spiritual things, often with reference to claims to such knowledge made by Gnosticism. What Evans and other Christian apologists seem to overlook is the fact that the book of John is heavily influenced by Gnosticism too. Even Clement of Alexandria (2nd Century) remarked that John had composed a ‘spiritual gospel’. This observation coincides with when the Gospel of John was written (c.170 C.E.) at the same time as the rise in popularity of Gnosticism. And we already discussed the sharing between Thomas and Johannine sayings, so there is no surprise that many scholars classify John as a possible candidate for a Gnostic work. In fact the early Church fathers believed the fourth Gospel of John to be a piece of Gnostic blasphemy penned by Cerinthus. So instead of helping support their agenda, they have just shot themselves in the foot, but have put on a brave face so you wouldn’t know it.]

Next, Jackson moves on to...

"Occasionally, some very absurd language is put into the Lord’s mouth by means of this document. Here is an example:

Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary (Magdalene) go out from among us, because women are not worthy of the Life.”

Jesus said: “See I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Saying 114, Funk, p. 532; see also Yamauchi, p. 186).

Does that even remotely resemble the dignified status that women are afforded in the New Testament?"

Could a skeptic cite a reference in any of the four Gospels that resembles this? Of course not! The whole thing is a sham.

[Advocatus Atheist: Understandably, it helps to have actually read Thomas before jumping to conclusions about the so-called “absurdity” of it. Jackson too has failed to comprehend the content of GTh, although I highly doubt he has read it in full, since he would have understood the meaning of the verse he quotes if he had. Since both our apologist friend and Jackson seem to be unfamiliar with Thomas, or Gnostic tradition for that matter, I’ll briefly clarify.

In GTh saying 22, in a response to a question Mary Magdalene has asked Jesus, he responds:
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 (Father’s) domain.]
This clears up the meaning behind the subsequent saying 114, and if Jackson had read Thomas in full he would have known this. In saying 22 Jesus is instructing the disciples to be like him, and when he instructs males and females to become one, he is giving his women followers the same authority as the males, by making them equal. Peter becomes irate at such a suggestion, and in the first line of saying 114 Peter says, “Make Mary leave us, for females don’t deserve life.”

Peters confrontation with Mary to attain authority in the early Christian movement is a recurrent theme found in the Gnostic texts, often times Peter objects to any women membership at all. For example, in the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene, chapter nine, verses 3-10, Peter is irate at the fact that Mary has recently had a vision of the deceased Jesus, who had spoken to her in a waking dream (just like Paul), supposedly giving her secret revelations along with entrusting Mary with the obligation to take over and lead his movement. Since Peter wants the power and authority to lead the movement, he chastises Mary, as he finds her an unfit (or rather undeserving) candidate for the life of a disciple; let alone the chosen disciple who will lead the movement.
3) Peter answered and spoke concerning these matters. 4) He questioned them about the Savior: Did He really speak privately with a woman and not openly to us? Are we to turn about and all listen to her? Did He prefer her to us?
5) Then Mary wept and said to Peter, “My brother Peter, what do you think? Do you think that I have thought this up myself in my heart, or that I am lying about the Savior?”
6) Levi answered and said to Peter, “Peter, you have always been hot tempered. 7) Now I see you contending against the woman like the adversaries. 8) But if the Savior made her worthy, who are you indeed to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. 9) That is why He loved her more than us. Rather, let us be ashamed and put on the perfect Man, and separate as He commanded us and preach the gospel, not laying down any other rule or other law beyond what the Savior said.” 10) And when they heard this they began to go forth to proclaim and to preach.[12]
It is clear to me that in saying 114 of Thomas, Jesus is instructing his disciples, including the women, to put on the perfect Man, and be like him. Not exactly difficult exegesis to follow if you have any familiarity with the Gnostic texts, which we can assume our Christian apologists here do not, which makes it rather difficult for their criticism to be taken seriously. Even so, to answer the above question, yes the Gnostics and the sayings of Thomas in particular, do depict a dignified status of women. In fact, most scholars agree that the Gnostic tradition elevates women more than the NT does—after all, it gives women the same status and importance of the other disciples, as to Jesus himself, and what is more Jesus appoints Mary Magdalene as the new leader of the Christian movement![13] This we do not find in the Gospel accounts.]

Jackson goes on to state…
The “Gospel of Thomas”—An Apparent Fraud

R.K. Harrison has well noted that this apocryphal work “cannot in any sense be called a ‘fifth gospel’” (Blaiklock & Harrison, p. 450). It is readily apparent that the so-called Gospel of Thomas has no place in the inspired canon, and history has been correct in rejecting it – some modern “scholars” to the contrary notwithstanding.

There are, however, two important points to be made in this connection.

1. The dependence of the “Thomas” upon the canonical Gospel records clearly indicates that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were recognized as the authoritative sources of information regarding Jesus of Nazareth.

2. The fact that the narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were available to a writer in Syria, in the mid-second century A.D., is dramatic evidence of the widespread distribution of the sacred documents in the early years of Christian history.

[Advocatus Atheist: Granted Jackson is a journalist and not a historian of any sort, it appears he is not familiar with the history of the construction of the canon. I have discussed this topic in detail, and you may wish to view my essay “An Unassuming History: On the History of Alterations, Emendation, and Man-made Origins of the Canon,” HERE. And since the debate isn’t about including new material into the established canon I will leave this ineffectual reference alone for the time being.]

Let's back up for a minute. Dr. Evans gives us some background information concerning the "Syria" reference.

"If you read Thomas in Greek or Coptic, it looks like the sayings aren’t in any particular order. It appears to be just a random collection of of what Jesus supposedly said. But if you translate it into Syriac, something extremely interesting emerges. Suddenly, you discover more than 500 Syrian catchwords that link virtually all the 114 sayings in order to help people memorize the gospel. In other words, Saying 2 is followed by Saying 3 because Saying 2 refers to a certain word that's then contained in Saying 3. And Saying 3 contains a certain word that leads you into Saying 4. It was a memorization aid."

[Advocatus Atheist: The Syriac reference stems from the Coptic translation. Evans makes another big mistake in claiming that Thomas has no particular order in Greek or Coptic and then states the Syriac translation of the Coptic becomes ordered. Since this doesn’t apply to the Greek, like he claims, his point is moot. Such an understanding would simply be gained by studying the interlinear translations of Thomas by either Michael Grondin or Andrew Bernhard, both of whom include with it a critical analysis of the Greek text. It is no surprise that later versions would include memorization aids like this in the text—as it is true of most ancient texts also; e.g. the Iliad and Odyssey.]

Why is this significant? Dr. Evans explains...

"There was a guy named Tatian, a student of Justin Martyr, who created a written harmony of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the year 175. It's called the Diatessaron which means, "through the four." What he did was blend all four Gospels together and present it in Syriac. So the first time Syrian-speaking Christians had access to the Gospels was not as separate Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but as the blended, harmonized form. In blending together the sayings of the four Gospels, Tatian created some new forms, because it was part Matthew, part Luke and so forth. Here's the clincher, those distinctive Syrian forms show up in the Gospel of Thomas."
Note: all occurrences of emphasis above appear in the text that is cited.

[Advocatus Atheist: As already pointed out—this is true of the Coptic version of Thomas, not the original Greek. So Evans has simply used the later version to try and discredit the early date of Thomas, but this is blatant subterfuge. We’ve already established that The Gospel of Thomas is a first century, independent, text. Although there is room for debate as to the exact date, it is clear that Evans is taking the minority opinion simply because it aligns with his Christian convictions. This confirmation bias detracts from his scholarship and makes his statements regarding Thomas unimportant.]

Ding-ding-ding-ding! And on it goes. The next time someone brings up this little hodgepodge of Gnosticism and absurdities and tries to present it as anything other than the complete theological disaster that it is, just hit them up with the FACTS. Anyone who would argue from positions advanced by the Jesus Seminar purposefully begins from a starting point that accepts their agenda which is driven by personal biases, not real evidence.

[Advocatus Atheist: Our apologist is right, on and on it goes, the merry-go-round of the apologist—avoiding having to look into the actual facts and instead siding with ‘Team-Groupthink’! And the closing comments about the Jesus Seminar was just out of place and incoherent—I don’t mean to be mean—but saying the Jesus Seminar is driven by personal biases and not real evidence is just stupid. The whole purpose of the Jesus Seminar is to establish the historicity of Jesus by detecting the real historical evidence which would aid in the search for the historical Jesus! Furthermore, the Jesus Seminar has nothing to do with the topic of this discussion, unless our apologist means to imply that some of the members are too liberal or do not believe in the divine Christ enough. But that’s a different topic, and many of the historians I quote are not part of the Jesus Seminar, so again, I fail to see the relevance behind bringing up the Jesus Seminar here.]

Work Cited: The interview with Dr. Evans is from The Case For The Real Jesus by Lee Strobel, (2007), Zondervan.

[Advocatus Atheist: Here we find the only scholar referenced is cited in a secondary source, written by an Evangelical Christian Apologist, known for his distortion of history to force it to fit with his Evangelical Christian convictions[14]—to which our Christian apologist seems to agree. Go-Team-Groupthink!

Not to sound too pedantic, but I think that it’s clear we have a problem with our apologist’s sources. First, neither source is scholarly. Of the two sources, however, there are select quotations from a single biblical scholar, Craig A. Evans, of Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia, as cited in Lee Strobel’s book The Case for the Real Jesus. Second, Strobel’s book, a work of Christian apologetics, simply doesn’t count as a scholarly resource.

I normally wouldn’t be so harsh, but when it comes to being called out and told I’m wrong in a public forum, in an area I knowing a thing or two about, I don’t mind offering a hard hitting, well deserved, criticism. Of course, I know I’m probably not convincing any dyed-in-the-wool Christians, least of all any apologist who thinks Strobel is a suitable source when it comes to historical matters concerning Biblical history. Such a person has presumably already hopped on the Evangelical bandwagon, and will in all likelihood dismiss any of the real scholarship concerning the Gospel of Thomas or other Gnostic works which I may present, refusing to correct their misconceptions. For this reason, I have tried to cite only from primary resources, such as academic journals, scholarly articles, and related books which are written by professional scholars. Hopefully, in relaying this authoritative information, so as to be that much more credible, I will have corrected any false impressions there might have been about the historical information regarding the Gospel of Thomas. I guess it’s true what they say—the devil is in the details.]

Advocatus Atheist’s Notes and References

[1] Three authoritative versions of the Gospel of Thomas can be read online at The Gnostic Society Library:

And also a fourth translation available at PBS:

[2] For a concise summary of the parallels between Q and GTh, please read:

[3] Most historians agree that Jesus must have been a real historical figure, but the fact of the matter is, there is just so little evidence to establish a link which would tie him to the fabric of history, all of which is polluted with mythological material, detectible redaction, and evangelical alteration that it is nigh impossible to uncover any genuine historical facts about Jesus. This doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t exist; simply that Jesus is more legend than historical fact. Meanwhile, any “authentic” evidence for a historical existence is strenuous at best. The simple fact is that Jesus’ life is so shrouded in mystery as to never have been adequately pieced together in over two thousand years, and we still don’t know anything about the life of the real historical Jesus, and not for a lack of trying I might add. For decades NT Biblical scholars such as Ferdinand Christian Baur, David Friedrich Strauss, and Rudolf Bultmann have convincingly argued that the NT is more diverse than Christians give it credit for and that any genuine historical information is nearly impossible to extract from it.

[4] Robert M. Price, Ph.D. “Messiah as Mishnah: The Problem of Jesus-Attributed Saying,” Approaches to Ancient Judaism New Series. Vol. 13 (Scholars Press, 1998) Made available online courtesy of Robert M. Price at:

[5] See: Bart D. Ehrman’s informative works: Jesus Interrupted, Misquoting Jesus, and Lost Christianities.

[6] Read biblical historian John Morison’s quote online at:

[7] See: Steven L. Davies, Ph.D. “The Christology and Protology of the Gospel of Thomas,” Journal of Biblical Literature Volume 111, Number 4, 1992. Available online courtesy of Steven Davies at:

[8] Stephen Patterson, Ph.D. qtd. in The Journal of the New Testament Society of South Africa, Neotestamentical vol. 30, 2 (1996), pp. 307-334.

[9] Lance Owens, Ph.D. “The Gospel of Thomas and the Hermeneutics of Vision,” available online:

[10] See: Alexander Mirkovic, Ph.D. “The Sayings Traditions in their Environment of First Century Syria,” available online:

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Gnostic Gospel of Mary, available online:

[13] See: The Nag Hammadi Scriptures ed. by Marvin Meyer and Elaine Pagels; The Gnostic Gospel of Jesus by Marvin Meyer; The Gnostic Discoveries also by Meyer; Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephan A. Hoeller; The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen L. King; The Gnostic Bible ed. by Willis Barnstone with Marvin Meyer; Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity by Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King; The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels; Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels; The Fifth Gospel: The Gospel of Thomas Comes of Age by Stephen J. Patterson and James M. Robinson; The Gnostic Scriptures by Bentley Layton.

[14] Read Robert M. Prices book The Case Against the Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel.


  1. First off, let me say good job on this.

    When Evans claims, "Matthew and Luke sometimes improve upon Mark's grammar and word choice. Mark is not real polished in Greek grammar and style, while Matthew and Luke are much more so," it should indict his scholarship even more. To think that the changes in Matthew and Luke are simply due to improving Mark's grammar choices is ludicrous.

    Of course, the sad part is that your last paragraph is completely right, and JD will not listen to any of it. He'll ignore anything that isn't in accord with his preconceived notions, while anything he can find that agrees with his preconceived notions (and it's not big business to write things and pass them off as fact to assuage the preconceptions of people like JD) is to be considered beyond question. For example, JD actually linked to this "article" once to make the claim that those damned heathen Japanese people like to eat other people. (He also trolls the opinion pages of WND of all places to find his "facts.") Is there any reasoning with someone like that?

  2. Thanks. I spent a full week researching it, even though I had read the Gnostics, I hadn't read much of the criticism of them.

    This helped me learn even more, and I hope that by passing along this information some Christians will actually become interested in the history of Christianity instead of just taking it for granted.

  3. I notice that you've left some comments over @ Jd's site to let him know you posted this...and no response from any of the smug, self-important Xians over there. Why am I not surprised?

  4. That's the pattern of most apologists.

    They ask you to prove your statements... and when you do they either ignore your research completely and deny that you proved your arguments... or they just deny the evidence itself and say you got it wrong anyway... even when you show a ton of research.

    It doesn't matter how scholarly your facts are... as long as they can retreat to their faith based convictions the devotional stance overrides any rational argument in favor of keeping the faith.

    It proves their emotionally invested, and that their beliefs aren't so much "true" as it is they *feel it's true and so they believe.

    There is a subtle difference which often gets overlooked.

    But I didn't really expect any of them to read what I wrote. I did it to show that I can prove an argument using genuine research... and falsify a theist claim... end of story.

    And since there is no rebuttal which could be given, not without distorting the facts, it's the end of debate.

  5. TDV, fortunately I found your blog again. Lost it in the last (of many) computer reformats.

    I found you again from feeno's blog.

    I am so glad you have the knowledge, and patience, to confront the likes of JD. I am sure you know, as I know, that anything you say has absolutely no effect on his beliefs. Old bible leather is uniquely resistant against such things as well reasoned arguments.

    So, don't do it for people like him. Do it for people like me.

  6. TV,

    It wasnt until today I could even get to your site and view this entry. You might recall a certain email I sent describing why I rarely visit this forum.

    I copied and pasted your entry and will examine it and get back to you when I have a response.


  7. JD- Yeah, it takes a while to load because of all the books I advertise through

    But the good news is I get free credit to buy more books every time someone clicks on a link.

    So although it makes load times slower on older processors.

    It also helps me get more blog hits and so my blog pops up on Google more often.

  8. Bob-

    I used to be like JD. A straight up Evangelical, apologist, Crusader for Christ of the Internet!

    Having been a hard core Christian for three decades I totally understand where JD is coming from. (I was just as deeply entrenched in my convictions once upon a time too).

    But I can't just idly sit by when someone tells me I'm completely wrong--when I have looked thoroughly at matters and know the truth of it. And although JD (probably) means well, citing a non-scholarly source, in which he cites a quotation from a scholar in an interview somebody else conducted (making it a secondary/not primary source), only to offer it as definitive in proving his case against me was some of the worst research I've ever seen.

    Doing the bare minimum just doesn't cut it when it comes to truth claims... so I don't mind correcting Christian apologists when they have it all wrong but won't let their arrogant certitude down long enough to admit they were wrong.

    The difficulty lies in the fact that most the time they are certain I'm wrong without even taking the time to understand my side of things, all the while acting like I have no clue what it is or means to be a devout Christian, so I couldn't possibly have any insights into the faith I spent over half my life practicing.

    At any rate, this post was devised not only to correct some common misconceptions, but to show how real research stands up against piss poor research. Not only did I level the playing field, but I completely refuted JD's claim that the Gospel of Thomas was not a first century text.

    So this one was sort of for me. But I'm glad other people find it helpful. Thanks for dropping by!


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