Should the Gospel of Thomas be included in the New Testament?

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let's take a look at the facts
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: let’s take a look at the facts

I was on a long distance drive Monday night. I finished listening to “God’s Crime Scene”, and started “The Case for the Real Jesus”. Craig Evans’ discussion about the Gospel of Thomas stuck in my mind, so I’m turning it into a post.

Should the Gospel of Thomas be included with the four canonical gospels? Is it early? Is it the same historical genre as the four gospels? Does it give us eyewitness evidence of the life and teachings of Jesus?

Here’s an article about it that references the chapter from “The Case for the Real Jesus” that I was listening to.

First reason, Thomas has literary dependence on TONS of other New Testament books, which favors a date for Thomas AFTER the books it quotes:

The Gospel of Thomas Cites Too Much Of The New Testament. Publishing writings in the first century was nothing like it is today. If you want a copy of something, you take a quill and some papyrus and you just copy it. That is how the books of the New Testament circulated. It was a very slow process. By the early second century, only a few of the books of the New Testament were in full circulation. Christians of that time only had a few of the books of the New Testament to reference. The epistles of Ignatious, written in AD 110, does not even quote half of the New Testament.

But the gospel of Thomas shows familiarity with 15 of the 27 books of the New Testament! Doctor Craig Evans pointed out that he was not aware of any Christian writing which referenced this much of the New Testament prior to AD 150. The Gospel of Thomas simply references far too many books to be dated early. But despite that, the Jesus Seminar attempts to date Thomas between AD 60 and 70.

Further, this gospel not only cites too much New Testament material. It cites the later New Testament material. Mark was not very strong in Greek grammar and etiquette, so when Matthew and Luke quoted Mark, they polished his wording. The gospel of Thomas quotes the polished wording, the later version. In fact, Thomas even has material from the gospel of John – penned in about AD 90. How can a book from AD 60 or 70 quote a book from AD 90? Thomas is not independent of the other gospels, it quotes the later ones and it is not early, it quotes too much of the New Testament to be considered early.

Second reason, Thomas shows signs of being based on a Syriac translation:

The Gospel of Thomas Shows Syrian Development. The gospels are published in the Koine Greek language, which was the most conventiant language of that time if the goal was to spread them far and wide. But when Christianity began to spread eastward, the gospels were translated into Syriac. But this did not happen immediately.

A student of Justin Martyr named Tatian compiled a Syriac translation of the four gospels in AD 175, which was named the Diatessaron (meaning ‘through the four’). He made the four gospels available to those who spoke Syriac. What makes this significant is that the gospel of Thomas shows traces of the Syrian language forms! Indeed, the gospel of Thomas adopts concepts that were only found in the Syrian church. It refers to Thomas as Judas Thomas, which was a concept that began with the Syrian church. The Syrians did not like ascetics, wealth, businessmen, commercialism, and were interested in elitism and mysticism. Precisely everything that the Syrians were not interested in, the gospel of Thomas was not interested in, and that which they were interested in, the gospel of Thomas was interested in.

Further, and critically, if we read the gospel of Thomas in English, it sort of looks like a non-contextual group of proverbs and sayings. It is just randomly assorted. It appears randomly assorted in Koine Greek as well. But if you translate it to Syrian, it is not random at all. There are literally hundreds of catchwords in Syrian that are meant to help people memorize the gospel. There are memory aids written in Syrian. The gospel of Thomas was written in Syrian.

Two other reasons would be:

  • it contains gnostic overtones, and that movement started in the 2nd century
  • none of the early Church Fathers quote it, but they quote the four gospels and the letters of Paul, etc.

Not sure why people get so interested in this Dan Brown hypothetical stuff, but my job is to share with you the things I’m reading that are relevant. By the way, the audio versions of the unabridged “Case For” books are read by Lee Strobel himself – HIGHLY recommended. You will not lose interest.

8 thoughts on “Should the Gospel of Thomas be included in the New Testament?”

  1. I have been watching a documentary on the bible and it uses experts both biblical and secular to discuss the bible. The 1st part talks about mistranslation of certain words in the bible, like the book of Genesis when god created adam and eve. They said the real word (forgot what it was) is actually translated to mankind, not just two people. Then the second part is about stories in the bible that dont make sense and im on the third part now explaining the different versions of the bible and how various kings and queens in europe wanted to create their own bible and the picking and choosing of what goes in the bible and what gets taken out.

    So when it comes to books of the bible, if they are “legit” why not add them to the book. Why pick and choose what goes in there. If the bible is truly the word of god i doubt god would want people editing his word.

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    1. The Bible wasn’t created by kings and queens deciding what they wanted it to say. The Bible we have today is a direct translation of the Hebrew and Greek. We have a multitude of Greek NT manuscripts from the 4th century through the 11th century or so, from all over the world. And with all the minor variations in spelling and wording between them, it is still possible to piece together what the original writings said to a very high degree of accuracy. The 2 or 3 places in the NT where there is not full agreement on what the original said are all minor and do not affect any major Christian doctrine. Thus, we have very good evidence that the Bible we have today is an accurate rendition of what the 1st century authors wrote down.

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      1. I didnt say the bible was created by monarchs just the various versions like the king james bible which is widely used today. The monarchs created their own versions of the bible picking and choosing what books would or would not be included for their subjects to read. The bible was a majority of european rule was for political control.

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        1. To be fair to the KJV and its translators, what we have is not the picking and choosing of which books would or would not be included in the canon of Scripture. King James certainly did exercise control over which words the KJV translators could use/not use in their translation (eg. ‘church’ not ‘assembly’, thus taking a position against Puritanism), but you do not have anyone fundamentally altering the canon itself (i.e. which books belong in the Bible and which do not). Hope this helps, ChildofRa.

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  2. You have posted this before WK, but Dr Peter Williams has an interesting lecture on 1st century names, geography references (town names etc) and things like nature of the region which strongly support the Gospels. On the other hand, the Gnostic gospels (like Thomas) are not supported in these ways. I start from the 35 minute mark in the video as 5 minutes of watching from that point will give an idea of the analysis. https://youtu.be/r5Ylt1pBMm8?t=35m

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  3. There was nothing you said that tells me why the Gospel of Thomas should or should not be in the New Testament? You make the assumption that if a book is dated later or was possibly written in a different language then it disqualifies it, but you don’t tell us why that is the case. 1. Why would citing much of the NT disqualify a book? 2. Why would Syrian development disqualify a book from being in the NT? Who said a book had to be written in a particular language to be inspired by God? 3. If the Gospel of Thomas quotes much of the NT, then how could you possibly know whether or not an Early Church Father had it in mind when they quote Scripture. They didn’t include references. For all we know they could have quoted the Gospel of Thomas.

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