An Early Christian Quote
Of the Gospel of Thomas

Yesterday I made the most fascinating discovery. Before I wrote this page, I read the Gospel of Thomas and some introductions to it that attempted to date it.

Not one of them mentioned that the Gospel is quoted in 2 Clement!

Yesterday I read, "For the Lord himself, being asked when the kingdom would come, replied, ‘When two shall be one, that which is without as that which is within, and the male with the female, neither male nor female’" (2 Clement 12).

This is clearly a quote from the Gospel of Thomas, saying 22, which reads:

They said to him, "Shall we then, as children, enter the Kingdom?"

   Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, then you will enter."

Now, I complain about this quote on my original page on the Gospel of Thomas. It could be interpreted to be anything. 2 Clement interprets it this way:

Now the two are one when we speak the truth to each other … And "that which is without as that which is within" means this: He calls the soul "that which is within" and the body "that which is without." As, then, your body is visible to sight, so let your soul be shown by good works. And "the male with the female, neither male nor female," this he says so that a brother, seeing a sister, might have no thought concerning her as a female and that she might have no thought concerning him as a male. (ibid.)

Interesting.

Implications for the Orthodoxy of the Gospel of Thomas

2 Clement is considered an orthodox work; however, no reputable scholar has ever considered it to be actually written by Clement, not even Eusebius, who makes the first mention of it in A.D. 323. In style, it is nothing like 1 Clement. It is only called 2 Clement because the 5th century Alexandrian manuscript includes it with 1 Clement as "the epistles of Clement."

Despite the fact that no one believes Clement authored it, it's universally considered orthodox. In fact, it's pretty awesome, and you ought to read it (but see sidebar).

A Warning About Reading
2 Clement

If you believe in eternal security, Second Clement may offend you greatly.

Like every Christian in history before the 16th century, I don't believe in eternal security. Martin Luther didn't, either. (Surprise! See the Martin Luther quotes on the Eternal Security quotes page.)

Obviously, the writer of Second Clement considered the Gospel of Thomas orthodox, —assuming he was quoting it and not the same source the Gospel of Thomas used.

As I said on the original page on this gospel, I didn't find anything out and out anti-Christian. It just has that eastern mystical feel and has changed some of Jesus' sayings into philosophical claptrap that could mean anything. If the writer of Second Clement could interpret them the way he did above, then it's no surprise that he could consider it orthodox.

Overall, it seems likely that the Church knew about this gospel that claims to be from Thomas, yet they did not include it with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among the accepted Gospels, and they did that on purpose.

Implications for the Dating of the Gospel of Thomas

2 Clement is usually given a date from A.D. 140-160, specifically because of this quote.

No Christian writer before Eusebius in A.D. 323 makes reference to 2 Clement; however, the reason for dating it to c. A.D. 150 is that it quotes words of Jesus from something other than the four Gospels. That would have been unacceptable in an orthodox work, especially a sermon like Second Clement, anytime after the late 2nd century.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio"The Incredulity of Saint Thomas"
by Caravaggio, 16th-century Italian artist
(Lifelike, isn't it?)

Of course, if 2 Clement is from A.D. 150 and it cites the Gospel of Thomas, then the Gospel of Thomas is at least that old.

Interestingly enough, Clement of Alexandria quotes the same words and attributes them to an apocryphal and unknown "Gospel of the Egyptians," which he does not regard as authoritative. The Gospel of Thomas has been found in Coptic (Egyptian) and Greek. Is it an Egyptian Gospel? If so, it's almost certainly Alexandrian, the intellectual center of Egypt, which would explain Clement of Alexandria would be quoting it.

Or maybe it was not always the Gospel "of Thomas." Was the sentence attributing it to Thomas added later?

There's a lot of other possibilities, of course. Maybe Second Clement was written later. Maybe that one quote made it into 2 Clement, Clement of Alexandria's Stromata (or Miscellanies), and the Gospel of Thomas from some other source.

I don't like that possibility. The only way that would have happened is if Christians considered at least that story orthodox. I find that hard to believe as it's such a terrible corruption of Jesus' wonderful statement in the Gospels that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Of course, an opinion like that of mine isn't going to carry any historical weight. Good historians have to be unbiased. So you have to ignore that opinion, as do I, but I wanted you to know where I stand—help you get to know me a little better.

spacer

Search Christian-History.org

Custom Search
Christian Theology Top Site

The Early Church History Newsletter

Delivered monthly.

Back issues available.

Email

Name


Don't worry—your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you the Early Church History Newsletter.