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The Words of Jesus: Explorations into the Gospel of Thomas, Intro and Saying 1

Leaf from the Gospel of Thomas from the Nag Hammadi Codex
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In the last article, we began with a rather lengthy introduction, into what this series of articles intends to achieve in the study of the Gospel of Thomas.

We will start at the very beginning with the introduction to the gospel itself and the first saying which actually follows from the introduction.

Introduction and the first saying:

These are the secret (a) sayings that Jesus, the One who lives forever (b), spoke to his disciples, and to Thomas, which Thomas the Twin (c) wrote down:

1) And Jesus said, "Whoever will understand the meaning(d) of my words (e) will not taste death."


a) These sayings are considered secret sayings, in that these were meant not for young Christians, but mature Christians, because only mature Christians could grasp them. In ancient times, Christians, both Orthodox and Gnostic, has public gospels and secret or private gospels. This was evidently considered a private gospel to be revealed only to worthy believers who had undergone the initiation into this order to learn the deeper things of the Kingdom of God.

b) or Gk and Coptic literally, "Jesus, the ever living one" or the "ever living Jesus". There is no mention of Jesus as being an actual flesh and blood being, no mention of his crucifixion or his resurrection. If one reads this gospel by itself without reading any other gospel, we might be inclined to think of Jesus as some sort of ethereal being. That may be a Gnosticism but it could also be a reflection on his resurrection and ascension into heaven, and his preexistence by Orthodox Christians. In other words, Jesus transcends the barriers of time and space and lives forever without limit, both into the past and into the future.

c) Thomas itself means "twin". The actual name for this disciple of Jesus was Judas Thomas, who is thought to be either a brother of Jesus and James the Pious One, also Jesus' brother, or a brother of one of the other Jameses mentioned as disciples of Jesus. So this disciple was actually Judas the Twin, literally translating the Aramaic word "Thomas". In Greek, he is called Didymous, which is Greek for "twin.", and Thomas was used as his actual name. So in the Greek and Coptic manuscripts, he is literally referred to as Didymous Thomas, or Thomas the Twin.

d) Gk, Copt. literally, "find the meaning" or "find the interpretation". This passage echoes John 8:51, 52.

e) or "finds the interpretation of these sayings."


The introduction and this saying sets the tone for the whole gospel. We have already mentioned in the notes that these are a list of secret sayings, that is that Jesus revealed a set of teachings meant for mature Christians which are the deeper things of the Kingdom of God.

From a Gnostic perspective, the key to salvation is knowledge (gnosis). So here in this gospel is the basic knowledge that Jesus provides. Hence when Jesus says that the one who understands what he says and applies them will not taste death, he means that the truth that Jesus reveals will being one into salvation and eternal life.

Orthodox Christians would agree with the Gnostic perspective here, but would add to this that it is not just knowledge of Jesus' words and sayings that brings salvation, but knowledge of Jesus himself as revealed in his sayings and also in his work of salvation on the cross. But knowing Jesus himself through his sayings would certainly be a start to attaining salvation.


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