The following numbered items are excerpts from Gospel of Thomas, followed by comments by me. I prepared this a few months ago for a couple of coworkers who suggested it as a starting point for lunchtime discussion. If you feel like reading and adding your comments or criticisms, feel free.

Gospel of Thomas (Lambdin Translation) -- The Nag Hammadi Library
These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.
(1) And he said, "Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death."

Note that the Christian teaching of St. Paul is also this radical – he guessed that the end would come and everybody would be resurrected within a generation. But Paul’s teaching doesn’t require a person to do anything besides believe, with other transformation and behavior change following from the faith. In contrast, right at the outset the Thomas Gospel ties redemption with understanding. It also presents it as a teaching for a select few, unlike Christianity which has been so successful by appealing to so many people. From what I’ve seen, all religions have both esoteric and exoteric aspects. The main esoteric thread within Christianity has been Masonry, which is a non-Christian teaching that has adapted itself to a Christian environment. (See the back of the $1 bill for evidence of the influence of Masonry on the founding of the United States.) One reason for there to be special, esoteric teachings, is that not everybody is equally interested in such things, and the people who are interested have to protect themselves from the intolerance of the majority, particularly in times and places where people are routinely killed for heretical beliefs. Another reason is that people try to control other people by controlling access to ideas about God, as if they’re trade secrets. I also think a lot of teachings are ‘secret’ not in the sense of being hidden, but in the sense of being unintelligible until you’re personally able to grasp them.

(3) Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."

So this is sounding like jnana yoga, and suggests that the problem of evil is largely one of perception. Certainly the Greeks knew about that stuff, and other Gnostic gospels like Apocryphon of John have other obvious similarities with Vedic thought. I’m agnostic on whether Jesus said any of this stuff. It does fit with my understanding of the New Testament gospels, but back in those days people were plagiarizing scriptures and writing fictional dialogues left and right.

I think that evil is objectively real – redemption isn’t simply a matter of learning to regard black as white. But its true from my experience that perception has a radical effect on fate, and when you change your mindset, not only do you see things differently, but things change also.

(5) Jesus said, "Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you . For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest."

I get at least three good ideas from this: One is that when faced with a big problem, just start with what’s in front of you that you know how to approach, and other seemingly intractable problems will become easier as you proceed. Another is the idea that evil is largely a problem of fear and deception. Just be honest, rather than pretending you can get away with stuff by twisting it around and hiding it, and most things will resolve that way. Another idea here is that in cycles fate tends to take what is hidden and internal and drive it out into the open. So the most direct way to improve the world is to face the whole reality of it, rather than frantically rearranging the symptoms on the surface.

(6) His disciples questioned him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shall we observe?"
Jesus said, "Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered."

I partially take back what I said about Gospel of Thomas being cryptic. I don’t see how a statement could be more clear than that one. From what I have seen this is typical with the Jesus persona.

(7) Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man."

Getting more cryptic now, but I don’t think its deliberate obfuscation, I think this is a hard concept to understand at the level that it needs to be understood. Spiritual growth is a blessing if approached with humility, and a curse otherwise. I can’t say I completely understand what the right attitude for the heart is, but I know that its important.

(11) Jesus said, "This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it what is alive. When you come to dwell in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?"

I can see there are multiple layers of meaning here, some beyond me, but here’s a partial interpretation. The dead are not alive because they don’t have physical bodies. Astral bodies don’t amount to the same thing. The physical world is essential to life – memory is almost synonymous with matter. Being one and becoming two refers to the split between desire and feeling, and also between the ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ selves, the higher one being somewhat subconscious and disembodied. Meditating on desire and feeling, in one way or another, is as far as I know key to understanding any of this.

Dwelling in the light is letting God show you the truth of who you are. This is hard to impossible to do because of the colossal ‘consuming what is dead and making it alive’ screw-up which caused the apparent division between the different aspects of ourselves. As I experience this, we’re mostly ignorant of it our present condition but nevertheless deeply horrified by what ‘happened’, before the foundations of the earth were laid, so to speak.

I don’t understand the last sentence, unless it alludes to becoming aware of the division.

(18) The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us how our end will be."
Jesus said, "Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death."

Another verse telling us to look within at who we are, as the only way of solving all the other questions that vex us.

(22) Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, "These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom."
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 the 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 place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom."

This gets weirder….I’m completely on board with the idea that thinking about and relating different archetypes within ourselves transforms us in a profound way. There’s also an implication here that this ultimately has physically transformative consequences, an idea which is also present in Masonry. I agree with that in an ultimate sense – I see a lot of connections between our physical forms and our spiritual conditions, and I even have what seem to be memories of other forms. What I’m less clear about is the extent to which an individual can transform themselves, and to what extent they’re locked into the collective mindset of all the others whom we share a world and genome with. Certainly there must be limitations with that.

(25) Jesus said, "Love your brother like your soul, guard him like the pupil of your eye."

Seems important!

(26) Jesus said, "You see the mote in your brother's eye, but you do not see the beam in your own eye. When you cast the beam out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to cast the mote from your brother's eye."

I’ve been skipping a lot of the verses that are already familiar from the four better known gospels. I’ve included this one just to illustrate that much of the teaching is substantially the same.

(28) Jesus said, "I took my place in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in flesh. I found all of them intoxicated; I found none of them thirsty. And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world. But for the moment they are intoxicated. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent."

I think intoxication isn’t a bad metaphor. This is one reason I’ve always stayed away from alcohol and drugs – I’m appalled by what they represent. Ideas can be like drugs also though.

(29) Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty."

The experts usually interpret this as asceticism, an idea that the physical world is evil. And maybe that’s what the ‘gnostics’ thought. Whether they thought that or not, I don’t agree with it. I agree that the forms in our world and even the physics of our world is in part a consequence of evil, but I think the “spirit: good, body: evil” dichotomy is a mistake, and its one aspect of the split between desire and feeling, and the higher and lower selves. There’s also a split between body and spirit, and I think the solution is to move towards healing the split, not deepen it by trying to flee the physical evidence of the split.

This ‘gnostic’ and other eastern stuff first became widely known in Europe about 150 years ago, and it spawned a lot of western religious sects. Theosophy was one. Christian Science (“matter is error”) is another. I think Christian Science is a good illustration of the wrongness of body hatred. In their theology, it empowers evil to regard it as real, such as by treating illness. So church members are taught to abhor medicine. When they become desperately ill, church leaders are available to help them through prayer, for a ‘voluntary’ fee that it would be rude or wrong not to pay. So they wind up with a dynamic that’s worse than no spirituality at all. Granted that Christian science takes this sort of thing to an extreme, the same hypocritical dynamics appear to me to arise from all teachings which regard the spirit as ‘better’ than the body. The fact is we are dependent on the body, and I think that the fear and clinging that people have in relation to bodies and other physical things is in large part a reaction to our attempts to avoid essential aspects of that dependence.

I agree that the spirit shouldn’t be a slave to the body, and that the desires of the spirit can not be wholly satisfied by the body. And there is a superficiality to physical appearances. And I think our bodies are very, very limited compared to what would be possible were we in a different state spiritually. And I think that pleasure seeking is stupid and counterproductive, particularly where it is selfish, and this pattern is a huge component of humanity’s problem. But for all that I think that the ‘spiritual’ disdain for physical things is a mistake.

(44) Jesus said, "Whoever blasphemes against the father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven."

Also in the Bible. Maybe that means that if you persistently ignore the voice of God trying to help you, then you can’t be helped. Or maybe its a partisan threat, power lust by the spirit behind the teaching, as distorted by the minds of those who receive it. There I go blaspheming against that spirit, but I’m not willing to play that kind of game.

The unedited manuscript for A Course in Miracles, a modern revelation similar in some ways to Gospel of Thomas, also exhibits something like that kind of totalitarian intolerance, as well as teaching that the existence of the physical body is a mistake. The thesis of ACIM is that guilt, fear, and anger are never justified because evil is unreal, and radical transformation is entirely a matter of choosing to see things differently. A criticism I have, and that others have had, is that if the appearance of evil is entirely a matter of choice, then you’re responsible for that appearance. Inevitably belief in having that responsibility produces guilt, despite the doctrine that guilt is delusional. So you try to address the guilt by believing more strongly that guilt is insane. And so you tie yourself in tighter and tighter knots. Plus if you really are dependent on your body, that compounds the problem. The ‘anger/fear/guit is never justified” thought seems to me like a good thought, but if held to the exclusion of other ideas it produces the opposite of what it seems to intend.

(48) Jesus said, "If two make peace with each other in this one house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move Away,' and it will move away."

Healing the feeling/desire, spirit/body, us/them rift.

(50) Jesus said, "If they say to you, 'Where did you come from?', say to them, 'We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established itself and became manifest through their image.' If they say to you, 'Is it you?', say, 'We are its children, we are the elect of the living father.' If they ask you, 'What is the sign of your father in you?', say to them, 'It is movement and repose.'"

Movement and repose: yin and yang; desire and feeling.

(51) His disciples said to him, "When will the repose of the dead come about, and when will the new world come?"
He said to them, "What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it."

One of the things that’s happened to me in recent years, is I seem to have become vaguely aware of something like parallel worlds, like there’s much more to the picture than what we usually see externally. Though I’m certain that I’m barely scratching the surface, I think the redemption is largely a matter of defragmentation of perception, so that we see the deep unity that is already there. I don’t think that pursuing ‘unity’ is really the answer though. The fragmentation is there inevitably because of the dishonesty and/or whatever the other root problems are. I don’t think the fragmentation is the root cause, it’s a symptom. If you try to fix the fragmentation directly, you wind up with totalitarian intolerance.

(53) His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision beneficial or not?"
He said to them, "If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become completely profitable."

Typical of statements attributed to Jesus: funny, logical, intelligent, possibly with a hint of extremism or condescension.

(55) Jesus said, "Whoever does not hate his father and his mother cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does not hate his brothers and sisters and take up his cross in my way will not be worthy of me."

Maybe that’s right, when understood in the right way, but isn’t it also clear that a person can go off the tracks with this sort of thing, believing it’s a virtue to treat other people irresponsibly?

(61) Jesus said, "Two will rest on a bed: the one will die, and the other will live."
Salome said, "Who are you, man, that you ... have come up on my couch and eaten from my table?"
Jesus said to her, "I am he who exists from the undivided. I was given some of the things of my father."

That last part I believe, nothwithstanding my other statements. I don’t think its presumptuous to question what we see. I think we all have that right, it’s essential to honesty, and to truly being alive and free.

(66) Jesus said, "Show me the stone which the builders have rejected. That one is the cornerstone."

A good quote I think, but I guess I don’t have to comment on every one.

(67) Jesus said, "If one who knows the all still feels a personal deficiency, he is completely deficient."


(83) Jesus said, "The images are manifest to man, but the light in them remains concealed in the image of the light of the father. He will become manifest, but his image will remain concealed by his light."

More riddles. Reminds me of Plato’s cave.

(84) Jesus said, "When you see your likeness, you rejoice. But when you see your images which came into being before you, and which neither die nor become manifest, how much you will have to bear!"

Sort of like Jungian archetypes? Deeper?

(87) Jesus said, "Wretched is the body that is dependent upon a body, and wretched is the soul that is dependent on these two."

More asceticism, but I think there’s truth in it also.

(89) Jesus said, "Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not realize that he who made the inside is the same one who made the outside?"

Another biblical tie-in, and good advice obviously.

(114) Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life."
Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

And that’s the end, to the sound of exploding feminist heads.

I guess I can’t get there for the idea that this is GOD’S WORD. Its got some of that in it, but it seems a little twisted to me also, like everything else in our world. On the one hand, its arrogant and destructive to presume to cast judgment upon everything. As if I’m superior to Jesus because I am qualified to evaluate his teaching. On the other hand, I don’t see how we can get very far if we shrink from our internal sense of what’s right, however flawed as it may be. Plus if at any point we declare a vice to be a virtue because we don’t want to judge it, we render ourselves unable to check the growth of that vice. So it seems to me that we need some courage in this regard, while being willing to find out where we’re wrong of course.