Periodically we meet people who bring up the subject of extra-biblical writings such as The Gospel of Thomas. In various ways the claims are made that flawed human decisions were made about what books were to go into the Bible.
I have already given an explanation of the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, posted on What Critieria Were Used to Discover the Canon of The Bible, and posted on Were the New Testament Books Widely Disputed? (they were not). These previous posts show that the early church fathers held great agreement on what books were inspired and which were not. They had valid criteria which they used to discover which books were inspired by God, and decisions were clear and not in great dispute.
By contrast, The Gospel of Thomas includes writings that clearly conflict with the ideas presented in the rest of the scriptures. A few examples are below.
- The opening lines say “These are the hidden logia which the living Jesus spoke . . .” and “He who finds the inner meaning of these logia will not taste death.” These opening sentences already give away that this book is not of the apostles, for it shows gnostic influences. Sects of the Gnostics held that certain people had received secret teachings (logia = words) which others did not. By contrast, Jesus taught openly in the temple and in the synagogues, often speaking to large crowds. Further, both Peter and John in their New Testament letters told the churches that they had all the knowledge and words they needed, and were complete without having any secret words.
- There are logical contradictions, such as “‘Happy is he who already was, before he is.” (19:2-3)
- There are influences from philosophies very different than that of the rest of the Bible, such as “When you make the two One, and the inner as the outer, and the outer as the inner, and the above as the below, so that you make the male and female as a single One, in order that the male is not made male, nor the female made female . . .” (22:9-16). Such contradictory statements more resemble pantheism or some sort of Platonic metaphysic than they do a Biblical view of the world.
- Some passages appear to flatly contradict Biblical theology, such as “The place where there are three gods, they are gods” (30:2-3) which is contrary to all teachings in the Bible.
- There are statements that do not say anything meaningful, such as “Become yourselves, passing away (42:2).
- Some statements are clearly against the teachings of the Bible, such as in 114, which has Peter saying that “women are not worthy of the life.” The response in the Gospel of Thomas is that women can indeed be worthy if they are made male: “. . . in order that I make her male that she shall become a living spirit, like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter the kingdom of the heavens.” (114:3-10)
Such statements are clearly against the rest of the Bible which lifts women to an equal level with men and treats them with great respect. For more on the Bible’s teachings about women, see here and here.
The church fathers were more familiar with the writings available in their day and had more time than us to study them. None of the councils listed Thomas as inspired, and its lack of inspiration was never in dispute. It is unreasonable and unsupported to claim that those who recognized the canon of scripture made mistakes or had some sort of bias. Quite the opposite, we can trust our Bibles today that have recorded the writings of the eyewitnesses of Jesus and include the inspired words of God.