Gospel of Thomas: Why is it missing from the Bible? 10 Considerations

Nag Hammadi Codex containing end of Gospel of Thomas and beginning of Apocryphon of John. All images from Wikimedia Commons unless noted otherwise.

Is Thomas the suppressed fifth gospel about Jesus?

1. Not a gospel

2. Hidden sayings (implying non-hidden sayings existed)

3. Detached from first-century Palestinian context

4. Relies on New Testament writings but adds new ideas

5. Written well after the New Testament and not written by Thomas

6. Rejected by early church fathers

7. Get naked?!

8. Women should become men?!

9. Adds no historical value about Jesus

10. Salvation is within v salvation is in Jesus

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Was the Gospel of Thomas widely used and accepted in the first few centuries of Christianity before being suppressed by the church?

Out of all of the apocryphal gospels, Thomas by far gets the most attention.

Some spiritual seekers view Thomas as a book outlining the path to enlightenment.

The fifth gospel?

Jesus Seminar scholar, Robert Funk, included Thomas as the fifth gospel in The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?


Some scholars (a small minority) date Thomas as originating in the 50s AD, around the time many of Paul’s epistles were written.

Suppressed by Nicaea?

Dan Brown, in the Da Vinci Code, presents the idea the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, under the direction of Emperor Constantine, suppressed previously accepted books of the Bible such as the apocryphal gospels. We refuted this claim in a previous post as linked below.

Did Constantine INVENT Jesus as God?

Gnostic Gospel?

Many commonly refer to Thomas as a Gnostic gospel. While Thomas does contain some Gnostic like teachings (eg. downplaying the importance of the flesh/ material world etc), not all scholars are convinced Thomas neatly classifies as Gnostic.

Pistis Sophia


Gnostic works frequently included a reference to a Demiurge, a lesser divine figure (inferior to the transcendent God), who shaped material reality.

Thomas lacks a Gnostic account of creation

Yet, as Simon Gathercole notes in his 700+ page commentary on Thomas, “It is hard to make a case for Thomas as Gnostic, principally because it does not have a clearly demiurgic account of creation (p.173).”

It is worth noting, however, that various Gnostic groups sought to interpret Thomas.

Nevertheless, Thomas cannot be classified as a Christian writing either. It varies drastically from Christian writings which teach salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Even the likes of Bart Ehrman and Mark Goodacre have outlined the difficulty of neatly classifying Thomas.

Thomas and Egyptian manuscripts- Context

Fragments (smaller portions) of the Greek text of the Gospel of Thomas were found in Oxyrhynchus in Egypt in 1897.

In 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, a full Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas was discovered containing the 114 sayings found in what is now known as the Gospel of Thomas.

Oxyrhynchus, Egypt

Greek or Coptic?

The fragments of the Greek text accounted for around 20% of what was found in the Coptic text. Scholars generally date the Greek fragments to the late second century while dating the Coptic version to the mid-fourth century.

Differences between Greek and Coptic texts

Some scholars such as Bock and Wallace (Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ) have argued the Greek and Coptic texts vary greatly showing significant theological evolution, yet the likes of Gathercole maintain these differences, while present, are often exaggerated.

Key considerations regarding Thomas are outlined below:

1. Not a Gospel

The word Gospel has its roots in the Greek word eugangelion or good news. The good news of Jesus as preached by early Christians related to Christ’s teachings that he is Lord and Saviour of all with this being made possible through the deeds of his death and resurrection.

Thomas contains sayings, not deeds

The Gospel of Thomas does not focus on these deeds. Instead, Thomas is comprised of sayings.


Thomas is full of cryptic, “hidden” sayings, not records of deeds that are good news for humanity.

As Ben Witherington articulates in the Gospel Code, “When early Christians picked up the term gospel, they had in mind the good news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of his teachings.. It is doubtful that the earliest Christians would have seen a mere collection of teachings, without a recounting of Jesus’ saving activities as a gospel (p.97).”

2. Hidden sayings (implying non-hidden sayings existed)

The Gospel of Thomas begins, “These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymos Judas Thomas wrote them down.”

By implication, there were likely some sayings of Jesus in existence at the time of writing which were considered plain or not secret. In other words, a public ministry of Jesus which was more well known.

As such, the Gospel of Thomas seeks to present an alternate angle to what was already known of Jesus.

Thomas and Matthew’s Gospel

Moreover, scholars such as Simon Gathercole have argued that Saying 13 illustrates the author of Thomas had knowledge of Matthew’s Gospel.

Note Saying 13 below:

(1) Jesus said to his disciples: “Compare me, and tell me whom I am like.”

(2) Simon Peter said to him: “You are like a just messenger.”

(3) Matthew said to him: “You are like an (especially) wise philosopher.”

(4) Thomas said to him: “Teacher, my mouth cannot bear at all to say whom you are like.”

(5) Jesus said: “I am not your teacher. For you have drunk, you have become intoxicated at the bubbling spring that I have measured out.”

(6) And he took him, (and) withdrew, (and) he said three words to him.

(7) But when Thomas came back to his companions, they asked him: “What did Jesus say to you?”

(8) Thomas said to them: “If I tell you one of the words he said to me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me, and fire will come out of the stones (and) burn you up.”

Why someone as obscure as Matthew?

In this section, Thomas is receiving secret wisdom from Jesus that is different from what Matthew and Peter perceive. It is unusual why the author of the Gospel of Thomas would select Matthew as a disciple who comments on who Jesus is except for the fact he wrote a Gospel.

As Bauckham points out, “Matthew would be one of the most obscure of the Twelve had not a Gospel been attributed to him. The saying in the Gospel of Thomas must presuppose the existence of Matthew’s Gospel and its attribution to Matthew (p.236, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses).”

Thomas’ author knew about Mark’s Gospel?

Furthermore, Peter was widely attributed in the early church for providing input into Mark’s Gospel (eg. by Papias of Hierapolis, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons and Tertullian of Carthage) which is why some scholars such as Richard Bauckham, also contend this passage recognises Mark’s Gospel too.

3. Detached from first-century Palestinian context

In our post on whether the canonical Gospels are based on eyewitness accounts, we outlined how the four Gospels do a far superior job than the apocryphal Gospels at detailing common first-century names and geographical locations.

Are the Gospels based on eyewitness accounts? 10 key considerations

Short Conversations: Are the 4 Gospels based on eyewitness accounts?

Quoting Ehrman: 20 Bart Ehrman quotes every NON-CHRISTIAN should know

Common names in Palestine and the Gospels

For example, the names Simon, Joseph and Lazarus (Eleazar) feature heavily in the canonical Gospels and were the three most common male names in first-century Palestine.


Names such as Simon are disambiguated multiple times including, Simon Peter (Mark 3:16), Simon the Zealot (Mark 3:18), Simon the Leper (Mark 14:3) and Simon the Cyrenian (Mark 15:21).

Peter the Apostle

Thomas and names

The apocryphal Gospels do a poor job by comparison. The Gospel of Thomas is the best of the worst and mentions James the Just, Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Salome, Simon Peter and Thomas (Source Williams Can we Trust the Gospels? 2018, p.69).

Thomas and maps

The geographical precision of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John compared to Thomas, makes it likely Thomas was a later embellishment detached from a first-century Palestinian context.

In an era where Google Maps did not exist, The Gospel of Thomas mentions Judaea once but no other location. Meanwhile, Matthew refers to 90 places (towns, regions, bodies of water, other places etc), Mark 60, Luke 99 and John 76 (for more read Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter J Williams).

Don’t pray, fast or give alms?!

Jesus speaks against fasting, prayer, and giving alms (14:1–3) as well as speaking against circumcision (53:2). Evidently, such advice is very detached from a first-century Jewish context.

Saying 14

Jesus said to them:

(1)”If you fast, you will bring forth sin for yourselves.

(2) And if you pray, you will be condemned.

(3) And if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits

Saying 53

(1) His disciples said to him: “Is circumcision beneficial, or not?”

(2) He said to them: “If it were beneficial, their father would beget them circumcised from their mother.

4. Relies on New Testament writings but adds new ideas

In a podcast with Bart Ehrman, sceptical scholar Mark Goodacre, contends that the author of the Gospel of Thomas blends in well-known sayings of Jesus with some added content in order to make it more likely people will accept the Gospel of Thomas.

Mix in the familiar with the new!

It is a lot more likely people will accept something that contains familiar content than totally new sayings, Goodacre contends.

Goodacre argues that Saying 79 was likely copied from Luke.

Jan Miense Molenaer — Three Children drinking and Making Mischief

Saying 79

(1) A woman in the crowd said to him: “Hail to the womb that carried you and to the breasts that fed you.”

(2) He said to [her]: “Hail to those who have heard the word of the Father (and) have truly kept it.

Dr. Luke

This echoes Christ’s words in Luke 11:27–28. Goodacre argues the reference to human anatomy makes it likely this was an original Lukan saying (Luke was a physician).

Gospel of Thomas relies on Matthew, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, a Two-Ways text and maybe more!

Simon Gathercole notes in Gospel of Thomas: Introduction and Commentary, “Thomas is very probably influenced by the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.. Furthermore, Thomas is influenced by some of the language of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and perhaps also by 1 Corinthians, as well as Hebrews and a Two-Ways text which also influenced the Didache and Barnabas (p.120).”

Ben Witherington in The Gospel Code, suggests the author of the Gospel of Thomas also reflects knowledge of 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 John and Revelation (p.103).

5. Written well after the New Testament and not written by Thomas

For Thomas to be impacted by Matthew, Luke, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Hebrews, a Two-Ways text, and potentially some other New Testament works, makes it highly unlikely it was written before the New Testament.

Especially, given church fathers in the late first and early second centuries did not quote Thomas but referred to the New Testament books.

Thomas written in 135–200 AD?

Gathercole contends Thomas was written between 135 and 200 AD while listing many scholars who estimate a date in the mid to late second century.

As Bock and Wallace explain, “The silence of all second-century writers regarding Thomas would be extremely peculiar if this gospel had existed for fifty or sixty years before AD 100- and all the more so if Thomas was used extensively by many New Testament authors (Dethroning Jesus, p. 114).”

Internet Archive

Not written by Thomas

For this to be the case, the Gospel of Thomas could not have been written by Thomas who was one of Jesus’ disciples in first-century Palestine.

Greek philosopher v Jewish Rabbi

Furthermore, Thomas presents Jesus as somewhat of a Greek philosopher compared to a Jewish Rabbi for example in Saying 13 where Jesus is referred to as a wise philosopher.

Thomas lacks Jewish identity of early church

NT Wright in The New Testament and the People of God, contends Thomas lacks the early Jewish identity of the early church.

Hard to know who wrote Thomas

Gathercole notes who wrote Thomas or where it was written is not easily discernible. Some scholars such as Nicholas Perrin have suggested Thomas was originally written in Syriac and used over 500 Syriac catchwords while following Tatian’s Diatessaron, but the likes of Peter Williams and Simon Gathercole have sought to refute this idea.

6. Rejected by early church fathers

Williams Lane Craig summarises in Reasonable Faith, “There is no evidence that any inauthentic gospel whatsoever existed in the first century, in which all four Gospels and Acts were written (p.336).”

The early church fathers clearly rejected the apocryphal gospels and accepted the canonical Gospels.

Ben Witherington notes, “The four biblical Gospels, as well as Paul’s letters, were recognised as sacred and authoritative tradition by AD 130, well before Constantine was born (The Gospel Code, p. 23)”.

Clement of Rome

Clement of Rome (died 99 AD), refers to the words of Jesus, similar to what is found in Matthew and Luke.

Basilica St Clemente

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch (died 110 AD) likely knew the Gospels according to Matthew and John with a particular emphasis on the theology found in John.

Papias of Hierapolis

Papias of Hierapolis (c.125 AD), acted as a kind of bridge between oral and written tradition in the early church and refers to Matthew, Mark and John.

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 120–140 AD) refers to Matthew and Luke.


Irenaeus referred to the four Gospels circulating together in the second century.

Tatian’s Diatessaron

Tatian’s Diatessaron (c.150–160 AD), merged the four biblical Gospels into one account.

Muratorian Canon

The Muratorian Canon (c. 170), “names the four Gospels as authoritative in and for the church (Witherington, p. 23).”

Different treatment for Thomas

Contrast this to how the Gospel of Thomas is treated. We have to wait several hundred years after Christ to start seeing references to it.

Hippolytus of Rome

Hippolytus of Rome in c.225 AD (Refutation of All Heresies 5.7.20–21) referred harshly to the Gospel of Thomas, as mis-attributing quotes from Hippocrates to Christ.


Origen in c.233–244 (Hom in Luc. 1, refers to the Gospel of Thomas being in circulation but the church of God did not approve of it. “The church of God approves four alone.


Eusebius in c.311–323 (Ecclesiastical History 3.25.6), contends it is inappropriate to make reference to the apocryphal gospels.

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril of Jerusalem in Catechesis 4.36 (c.348) exclaimed, “Of the New Testament, there are only four Gospels. The others are falsely attributed and harmful.. (Thomas) destroys the souls of simpler folk.”

Didymus the Blind

Didymus the Blind in his Commentary on Ecclesiastes (late fourth century), speaks against studying the Gospel of Thomas as heretical statements have been mixed into it.

Decretum Gelasianum- list of heretical books

The Decretum Gelasianum in c. 491, lists the Gospel of Thomas in a list of apocryphal and heretical books to be forbidden.

The evidence is clear, the church recognised the four biblical Gospels from well before Nicaea while consistently recognising the Gospel of Thomas as falsely attributed to Thomas and heretical.

References to Thomas are later than the four Gospels

Early church references to the Gospel of Thomas, in addition to having a negative view of it, commenced later than references to the four Gospels, implying a later date of writing for Thomas compared to the canonical Gospels.

For more on how we got the Bible:

Short Conversations: How did we get the Bible?

Frequently Avoided Questions: How did we get the Bible? A crash course

7. Get naked?!

Thomas contains many ideas foreign to the New Testament. Take for example saying 37 under Layton’s translation:

His disciples said to him, “When will you be visible to us, and when shall we behold you?”He said, “When you strip naked without being ashamed, and take your garments and put them under your feet like little children and tread upon them, then you will see the child of the Living, and you will not be afraid.”

In other words, get naked to see the truth about Jesus! Hardly consistent with early Christianity.

8. Women should become men?!

In addition to point 7, Thomas teaches women will become saved by becoming men.

Note how the Gospel of Thomas ends in Saying 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.

This is a stark contrast to the first evangelists being women in the Gospels and Christ’s counter-cultural respect for women the four biblical Gospels represent.

Penitent Mary Magdalene

9. Adds no historical value about Jesus

In the podcast mentioned earlier, with a dialogue between sceptical scholars Bart Ehrman and Mark Goodacre, both concede that Thomas adds no historical value to understanding the life of Jesus. Goodacre concedes around 50 minutes in that all relevant historical information in Thomas has a Synoptic parallel.

Quoting Ehrman: 20 Bart Ehrman quotes every NON-CHRISTIAN should know

Goodacre honestly confesses, “I wish it were otherwise.” Ehrman adds, “I don’t think we’re too far apart on this one… I don’t think any of the non-Synoptic sayings has much of a chance of being historical.”

Simon Gathercole in his commentary argues similarly as do the likes of Ben Witherington (The Gospel Code) and Craig Evans (Fabricating Jesus).

Gathercole summarises that Thomas, “can hardly be regarded as useful in the reconstruction of a historical picture of Jesus (p.184).”

Anthropocene Layer

10. Salvation is within v salvation is in Jesus

In Thomas, salvation comes from within.

Saying 24:

Light exists inside a person of light, and he shines on the whole world. If he does not shine, there is darkness.

Saying 70:

(1) If you bring it into being within you, (then) that which you have will save you.

Saying 83 adds:

(1) “The images are visible to humanity, but the light within them is hidden in the image.

(2) The light of the Father will reveal itself, but his image is hidden by his light.”

In the canonical Gospels salvation is through Christ

Contrast this to the canonical Gospels where salvation comes through Christ. Christ who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Christ who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). Christ who forgives sins when only God can (Mark 2:1–10).

Erik Werenskiold — Lamp Light

Kingdom of God within?

Some might respond by asking didn’t Jesus say in Luke 17 that the Kingdom of Heaven is within? For a response to this please read this piece written by New Ager turned Christian, Steven Bancarz.

Access to the indwelling Spirit of God comes through faith in Jesus (Rom. 8:11, Matt. 7:7–12), not an internal divine nature we are born with. The passage in Luke 17 ends with Jesus outlining (17:22–37) the coming of the kingdom as an external, visible event which will lead to distress to those who do not have their trust in him!

Jesus even adds the days will come when people want to see the kingdom of God/ Son of Man but will not be able to see it and to ignore people who claim they can see the kingdom of heaven in the very next verse (Luke 17:22–24).

Hardly a reference to all of us having an internal light that saves us. Jesus taught out of the human heart comes evil (Matt. 12:34–40).

Where are you looking for your light of salvation?

Christ or inside yourself? Christ claimed to be the light of the world (John 8:12).

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