When was the Gospel of Thomas written?
Scholars have proposed dates of composition as early as AD 60 and as late as AD 250. Most scholars however agree that it is between AD 60 to AD 140. Even a later date is not that late seeing that the Gospel of John was only written around AD 90 – 100.
The argument for a late date for Thomas
The main argument for a late date is that it is gnostic in nature. It is not, although it might have appealed to Gnostics. The idea of 'secret teachings' (a gnostic theme) is not an idea that is foreign to Jesus and comes through very strongly in the Bible – especially in Mark. (Mark 4:11-12, Mark 4:34)
Gnostics believe the body is evil and one should only focus on the spirit. The opposite is taught by Jesus in Thomas (we will get to that in upcoming articles).
Another argument for a late date is that the Gospel of Thomas must have relied on the New Testament. The opposite however can just as easily be argued. Sayings in Thomas doesn't contradict each other and makes more sense that their counterparts in the New Testament, for example:
- Where two or three are gathered in My name - see God is not in the crowd
- Blessed are the poor - article coming soon.
The actual reason why a late date is more popular is not because there are proof of this, but that it would just be to disturbing for most Christians to even consider that Thomas is a reliable gospel that contains the actual sayings of Jesus.
Thomas does not go against what is said in the other gospels in the New Testament, but it does go against a lot of what Paul taught and what the early church did.
- For more on Paul see: Paul's words are not God's words
- For more on the early church: Articles coming soon
Early date for Thomas
Evidence pointing to an early date:
- Shorter versions of a saying are earlier than more elaborate traditions. In the case of the Gospel of Thomas, certain sayings of Jesus are more simple and shorter than the Synoptic parallels.
- The genre of a "sayings collection" is indicative of the 1st century, and that in particular the "use of parables without allegorical amplification" seems to antedate the canonical gospels.
- Sayings in Thomas from that of their parallels in the synoptic gospels shows that Thomas was not evidently reliant upon the canonical gospels and probably pre-dated them.
- Thomas focuses on what Jesus said. The gospels in the Bible often refer to 'as it is written' -referring to Old Testament scripture. Referencing scripture seems to have become more important in later years (compare Mark to Matthew).
- Another argument for an early date is what some scholars have suggested is an interplay between the Gospel of John and the logia of Thomas. Parallels between the two have been taken to suggest that Thomas' logia preceded John's work.
- In 1 Corinthians 2:9, Paul (who's letters pre-dates even Mark) says 'as it is written. Isa 64:4 and Isa 65:17 is then referenced. But the scripture in Isaiah is different to the way Paul is using it but very similar (identical almost) to GOT 17.
- Paul's idea that there should neither be man or woman (Galatians 3:28) is nowhere in the Old Testament scripture but the idea comes very strongly through in the GOT.
- In GOT Jesus says to the disciples to go to James after he has been taken away. James was the leader of the early church and died in 62 or 69 AD. Why would this instruction be recorded after James has died? James as a prominent 'elder' in the church before 70AD is confirmed by Galatians 2 that pre-dates the gospels. The GOT is in opposition to Jewish traditions – something that was shared by James (unlike popular belief – James and Peter agreed with Paul and stood against the Jewish Christians).