The Development of the Canon of the New Testament

Home | Authorities | Writings | Table | Lists | Places | Heresies | Miscellaneous | for more Information

Apocryphal New Testament Writings

Gospel of Thomas
Gospel of Truth
Gospel of the Twelve
Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Basilides
Gospel of the Egyptians
Gospel of the Hebrews
Gospel of Matthias
Traditions of Matthias
Preaching of Peter
Acts of Andrew
Acts of Paul
Acts of John
Epistle to the Laodiceans
I Clement
Epistle of Barnabas
Shepherd of Hermas
Apocalypse of Peter

Gospel of Thomas (eastern Syria, ~150 CE)

Hippolytus of Rome, in his report on the Naassenes (Philos. v. 7, 200-235 CE), mentions a 'Gospel of Thomas' and quotes from it (the quotation probably has some connection with logion 4 from the Coptic Gospel of Thomas discussed below). About 233 CE Origen mentions it among the heterodox gospels. His testimony was taken over in a Latin translation or paraphrase by Jerome, Ambrose, and Venerable Bede. Eusebius, probably following Origen, includes a Gospel of Thomas in the heretical category. It is also mentioned by Cyril of Jerusalem, and Philip of Side (about 430), and appears in the Stichometry of Nicephorus. It is certain that the gospel was known and used in Manicheism.

With the discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library in 1945, we know of a collection of 114 logia (sayings), written in Sahidic, which is described in the colophon as 'Gospel according to Thomas'. The introduction confirms this title.

Codex II from Nag Hammadi can be dated to about 400 CE. It can however be demonstrated that it had a significantly older Coptic Vorlage. As early as 1952 H.-Ch. Puech established that parts of this gospel had already long been known in Greek, the correspondence with the Coptic manuscript is as follows:

Codex II from Nag Hammadi (Coptic) ~400 CE logia 1-114
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus I (Greek) before 200 CE logia 26-30, 77, 31-33
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 654 (Greek) ? logia 1-7
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 655 (Greek) ? logia 36--40

For discussion of the relationship between the Greek and Coptic manuscripts,see [Schneemelcher] ref. v. 1 p. 111, and [Robinson] ref. pp. 124-125. It is doubtful whether this gospel was originally composed in Aramaic and then translated into Greek, although many of the sayings, like the oldest sayings of the canonical gospels, were certainly first circulated in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

Opinion on the date of composition of the The Gospel of Thomas is divided into 2 camps - early and late. The early camp favors the 50s and the late camp about the middle of the 2nd century. For more on the arguments see this wikipedia article .
The place of composition may be eastern Syria.

The 114 sayings preserved in The Gospel of Thomas are of several types: wisdom sayings (proverbs), parables, eschatological sayings (prophecies), and rules for the community. They are ordered in a way that does not reveal any overall plan of composition. On occasion, small groups of sayings are kept together by similarity in form or by catchword association. The collection is similar to the hypothetical source Q. A large number of sayings have parallels in the canonical gospels, especially the Gospel according to John (13, 19, 24, 38, 49, 92). Some are known to occur also in non-canonical gospels, especially the Gospel of the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Egyptians. However, a direct dependence upon another non-canonical gospel is very unlikely. If one considers the form and wording of the individual sayings in comparison with the form in which they are preserved in the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas almost always appears to have preserved a more original form of the traditional sayings, or presents versions which are independently based on more original forms. More original and shorter forms are especially evident in the parables. One of the parables unique to this gospel, logion 97 (Empty Jar), was judged to probably be an authentic saying of Jesus by the Jesus Seminar, [FSB] p. 61. The English translation of the "Empty Jar":

(97) Jesus said: "The kingdom of the [Father] is like a certain woman who was carrying a [jar] full of meal. While she was walking [on the] road, still some distance from home, the handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her [on] the road. She did not realize it; she had noticed no accident. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty".

The Gospel of Thomas has captured the popular attention more than any non-canonical writing in this survey by far. Sayings from it have appeared in popular books, and it is a common subject in college Bible classes and Catholic study groups.

Date CE Place Manuscripts English Translation(s)
~150 eastern Syria Codex II Nag Hammadi (Coptic, Sahidic dialect)
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus I (Greek)
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 654 (Greek)
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 655 (Greek)
[Robinson] pp. 126-138
[Elliot] pp. 135-147
Alexander Walker Esq. [New Advent]
Stephen Patterson and Marvin Meyer
Thomas O. Lambdin
Lambdin and Layton
W. R. Schoedel
Stuart D. Shoemaker
Paterson Brown
K. C. Hanson
Berlin Working Group for Coptic Gnostic Writings
Ecumenical Coptic Project
Interlinear Coptic/English
Interlinear Greek/English

Pages created by Glenn Davis, 1997-2010.
For additions, corrections, and comments send e-mail to