The Gospel According to Thomas, sometimes referred to as the “fifth gospel,” was discovered among a trove of ancient manuscripts unearthed at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945. Its author is identified as Didymos Judas Thomas, or Thomas the Twin, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. If the gospel attributed to him were the only surviving record from the early Christian period, we would have a very different understanding of Jesus than we do. Nowhere in the document is Jesus identified as “Christ” or “Messiah.” There is no mention of the Resurrection, no walking on water, no miracles of any kind; in fact, no narrative of Jesus’ life at all. There is only a series of “secret sayings” ascribed to him, some of them similar to his more esoteric utterances in the New Testament. The Gospel of Thomas is not part of the New Testament canon and is therefore not regarded as authoritative. Nonetheless, many biblical scholars believe it may date from the period when the canonical gospels were written, if not earlier, and at least some of the sayings that are not also found in the New Testament may be authentic.
Here is one. Jesus sees some mothers nursing their children and tells his disciples, "These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom." They ask, "Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?" To which Jesus replies: “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… then will you enter the kingdom.” This passage starts off in familiar territory, much like biblical passages in which Jesus tells his disciples they must become like children to enter God’s kingdom. Similarly, St. Paul writes to the church in Galacia that there is neither male nor female “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” But what are we to conclude from the remainder of this passage? How do you make the two one, the inside like the outside and the above like the below? Jesus is presented here almost as a Zen master posing riddles to those seeking enlightenment.
The Gospel of Thomas was one of dozens of manuscripts associated with the Gnostic sect that were found buried in a sealed jar at Nag Hammadi. The Gnostics believed that the key to salvation or enlightenment was the transmission of secret knowledge (gnosis in Greek), which was grasped intuitively rather than through an intellectual understanding of theological or philosophical precepts. This may account for the Zen-like quality of Jesus’ utterances in the Gospel of Thomas. To borrow a phrase from the Gospel of St. Luke, they are truths hidden from the wise and revealed to babes.
To the extent that Gnosticism lends itself to theological analysis, one can recognize elements also found in Neo-Platonism, Greco-Roman mystery religions, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism, as well as early Christianity. Along with the Gnostics, many esoteric traditions gravitated toward an idea, first articulated by the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitis, that later came to be known as “the union of opposites.” Thus, two becomes one, inside becomes like outside, above like below, and so on. From the standpoint of rational thought, such statements appear nonsensical. They suggest some radical departure from reality. But they actually point to something else altogether. The solution to the riddle is not to try to figure it out but to see past our own thoughts.
“Don’t think, look!” advised the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. By “look,” he meant see the world as it presents itself to us, without the mediation of thought. The mind breaks down our immediate experience of our surroundings and reassembles it to conform to our conceptual understanding of reality. Thereafter, we are incapable of seeing the whole except as the sum of its parts, all of which are carefully named and classified. If we could see the world as a newborn does, there would be no inside or outside to things, no above or below, no male or female. Most fundamentally, there would be no separation of self from other: the world is not two, it is one.
Saying 22, Gospel of Thomas, translated by Thomas O. Lambdin