Dear Catholic Exchange:
During one of my wife’s confirmation classes, a question came up about the “Gospel of St. Thomas.” I know this isn’t considered part of the cannon of the Catholic Church, and I don’t think any other major Christian denominations accept it either, do they? Can you please tell me something about the history of this document? Why doesn’t the Church accept it as inspired? If you could provide me with specific references, I’d appreciate it very much. I am going to try to communicate what you tell me to the rest of the class.
Thanks for your help,
Dear Mr. Frazier,
Peace in Christ! I hope this response will adequately address your question.
There are, actually, several documents people call “Gospel of Thomas.” Some of them contain stories about the childhood of Jesus (“Infancy Gospels” including two different Greek forms and a much longer Latin form), while others contain only sayings attributed to Jesus during His earthly ministry (the “Gnostic Gospel”). The “Infancy Gospels” are not related to the “Gnostic Gospel.” None of them are canonical.
Why are these so-called “Gospels” not accepted? They were not written by an apostle (e.g., Matthew) or an apostolic man (e.g., Luke), in spite of the authors’ claims to be “Thomas,” and they have never been accepted as Scripture by the Church. The earliest mention of an “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” is between the fourth and sixth centuries. The “Gnostic Gospel” is an earlier text, perhaps dating to the mid second century, but it has only been accepted and preserved by heretics (i.e., in the Nag Hammadi Library, a collection of Gnostic texts). All of these so-called “Thomas Gospels” contain problems and heresies that cannot be reconciled with Church
For example, the “Infancy Gospels” portray a young “Jesus” who is revengeful or vindictive. It is true that this “Jesus” often heals and raises people from the dead, but they are almost always people he has maimed or killed as a petty revenge for minor offenses. Ordinary people are terrified of him, saying “those that make him angry die.” Neither humility nor patience can be found in this “Jesus,” and very little mercy and generosity. While it is true that the real Jesus was not always gentle (e.g., Jn. 2:13-17), neither was He merely vindictive or arbitrary.
The “Gnostic Gospel” informs the reader that it contains the “secret words” of Jesus written down by “twin Judas Thomas,” which, when their interpretation is known, grant immortality. This is a common Gnostic theme. The Apostles and their successors have always taught that the Gospel is a matter of public revelation, to be made known to the whole world. By contrast, almost all Gnostic heretics have preached a “salvation by secret knowledge” available to very few people. Like many Gnostic writings, the “Gnostic Gospel of Thomas” is almost unintelligible with unexplained symbolism. Though some sayings appear similar to actual Gospel sayings, many sayings are nothing like Gospel sayings: “Where there are three gods, they are gods; where there are two or one, I am with him.”(1) In the few places where this so-called “Gospel” is intelligible, salvation is often attributed to self-knowledge, as in Gnostic teaching, rather than the redeeming incarnation and life of God’s Son, as in orthodox Christianity. There are other problems as well.(2) Although some people argue that the “Gnostic Gospel of Thomas” is not really Gnostic, it is difficult to give it a non-Gnostic reading, and probably impossible to give it an orthodox Christian reading.(3) This “Gospel” represents neither the teaching of Jesus Christ nor the teaching of His Church, and has never been considered an authentic Gospel.
I hope this answers your question. If you have further questions on this or would like more information about Catholics United for the Faith, please contact us at 1-800-MY-FAITH (693-2484). Please keep us in your prayers as we endeavor to “support, defend, and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.”
United in the Faith,
David E. Utsler
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
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