Home > Christian History > The Gospel of Thomas: Gnosticism or Early Christian Mysticism?

The Gospel of Thomas: Gnosticism or Early Christian Mysticism?

Link to an article in the recent issue of BAR:

What’s Up with the Gospel of Thomas by April DeConick


The type of religiosity found in the Gospel of Thomas is not all that unusual. You can find references to it in Biblical and nonbiblical literature. It is nothing more than an early Christian expression of mysticism that developed out of an earlier, apocalyptically oriented Christianity that wished for the immediate end of the world. When the end didn’t happen, the Christians were forced to rethink and rewrite their cherished apocalyptic teachings…

We can even locate this mystical form of Christianity historically. It is a form that developed in eastern Syria in the late first and early second centuries, a form of Christianity that was an heir to early Jewish mystical traditions and a precursor to later Eastern Orthodoxy. I think that Thomas’s “place” in early Christianity was misidentified originally not because it represents a type of Christianity unfamiliar to the canonical tradition or deviant from it. The Gospel of Thomas was wrongly identified at first because Western theological interests controlled its interpretation within a Western Christian framework that could not explain its unfamiliar, mystical structure. Yet we now know—in part from manuscript discoveries like the Nag Hammadi collection—that there was a multiplicity of groups, beliefs and traditions in the diverse early Christian communities. Scholars who misunderstood the Gospel of Thomas mislabeled it as Gnostic in order to lump it together with other traditions they thought to be strange, heretical and late.

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