The “Secret” Sayings Of Jesus

Overview

Now that we have looked at the four gospels of the New Testament, we will now turn to a few of the gospels that were not included in the New Testament.  These extra-canonical (outside the canon or Bible) texts are frequently referred to as “gnostic” (from the Greek word “gnosis” meaning “knowledge” – but referring to esoteric or mystical knowledge).  In mystical wisdom traditions, this particular type of knowledge is commonly kept a secret until students or followers have the proper capacity to understand these kinds of teachings.  In all three synoptic gospels – Mark, Matthew, and Luke – Jesus specifically says that he teaches in parables to the crowds, but to his inner circle he gives the secrets of the kingdom of God. 

In this section, you will learn some of the identifying features of how Jesus is portrayed in these secret gospels, as well as some of the unique characteristics of these teachings.  As you will see, the teachings are not always easy to understand! 

Note:  Please don’t worry too much about trying to understand the details of these teachings.  I just want you to read through them so that you get a feel for the style and the kinds of things they are saying.

Objectives for this section

  • In this section, you will gain a better understanding of a few of the gnostic gospels including the following information:
    • Origins of the gospels:  where and when written, original language, etc. 
    • Who were these gospels written for?  What was their purpose?
    • The distinct character of gnostic gospels so that you can see the difference between gnostic gospels and canonical gospels.  
    • The way in which Jesus is portrayed in these gospels.

Steps for achieving the objectives

Read the following instructional content:

  1. Frontline: The Gnostic Gospels (Early documents suggest the first Christian communities had radically different interpretations of the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings.)
  2. Frontline:  The Gospel of Thomas  (Thomas does not tell the story of the life and death of Jesus, but instead offers the reader his “secret teachings” about discovering the Kingdom of God within ourselves).
  3. The Lost Gospel of Thomas:  Unknown Teachings of Yeshua  (Author Ted Nottingham provides interpretation of key passages from the Gospel of Thomas, a text that most scholars consider to be as old or older than some of the New Testament Gospels and possible source material for some of them.  Note:  I know his voice is a little dramatic, but his interpretations are consistent with how scholars are interpreting these texts and I thought it might be nice for you to have a video rather than more reading.)
  4. Read The Gospel of Thomas” (pg. 279 – 303).
  5. Read The Gospel of Judas (pg. 343 – 357).

Writing prompt: 

Please summarize your understanding and your feelings about the interpretations contained in the video called “The Lost Gospel of Thomas: Unknown Teachings of Yeshua” (listed as #3 on our list of resources for this section).  The teachings in the “secret” gospels can be very difficult to understand (as you will see when you read through them in your textbook), but this video explains a bit more clearly what these teachings might be saying.  (Hint:  It will greatly improve your ability to understand the video and your overall understanding of these kinds of teachings if you go through the other resources before watching the video.)

NOTE:  It will not help your grade in the slightest if you simply reject the gospels not contained in the Bible based on your beliefs.  If you wish to reject them, that is absolutely fine, but you must do it based on information found in the scholarly resources.  Remember that Jesus said in all four New Testament Gospelsthat he gave secret teachings to his followers, and these gnostic gospels have been authenticated to the time and place of his early followers.  While the orthodox church did not approve of these texts – based on the church’s own understanding and agenda – many of Jesus’ followers found them to be very meaningful and closer to their own understanding of his teachings.  

As always, please include direct quotes and/or references to the video if you wish to receive a higher grade.  And if you are struggling with any of this, PLEASE let me know so I can help you!  🙂

Follow up post:

First:

 I am going to have to take the position of rejecting that these secret sayings are reliable and true. Not just based on my faith but also from scholarly studies I have looked at. I would first like to mention that I believe when Jesus said the mysteries of the kingdom will be revealed or what is hidden will be revealed is simply speaking to a faith factor. That Jesus is simply saying unless you have faith you won’t be able to understand the secrets of the kingdom. That in fact scholarly studies and knowledge will only get you so far into understanding him. Coldcasechristianity.com was one of my resources. They said these texts were found in 1945 which scholars say is way too late to be written by Thomas or any reliable eyewitness of the life of Jesus. It also says “The oldest manuscript fragments of the text (found at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt) are dated from 130 to 250AD, and the vast majority of scholars agree that the Gospel of Thomas was written no earlier than the mid-2nd Century, These scholars cite several passages in the text appearing to harmonize verses from the canonical Gospels. This would require the canonical Gospels to be in place before the writing of this text.” I believe these sayings to be false. Although some of them reiterate things closely to what may sound like Jesus, many of them do not like him saying in the video “Whoever searches must continue to search until they find, when they find they will be disturbed, and being disturbed they will marvel and will reign over ALL. This simply just doesn’t sound like Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What does sound like him is Matthew 7:7 “”Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Much more straight forward and understandable. In proverbs 9:10 in the bible it says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, which would make wisdom from fearing the Lord and not trying to overstand things said and overthink. Gnostic groups say these secret sayings of Jesus can lead to salvation from reading some of these sayings that seems to be how they think. It says whoever lives the interpretation of these words will no longer taste death. This is referring to inheriting eternal life in heaven, but in fact this completely contradicts what Jesus said about inheriting the kingdom of heaven in John 3:36 when he says “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” This is one phrase that would contradict just living out interpretations. He is saying in the gospel of John you must believe he is the son of God. This makes me completely question that any of these sayings in the “secret sayings” are real. He also says he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one will come to the Father except through him. This would make it untrue in the gospel of Thomas to inherit salvation through works but rather belief in the Son. It makes us pick one or the other which is the bible being true or the secret sayings. I would have to pick the bible considering most of the people who wrote the 4 gospels were eyewitnesses of Jesus. 

Second: 

Even though it is my first time reading the Gospel of Thomas, I found many similarities to the other four gospels and the Bible in general. I read the book first and then listened to the video and listening to the video helped me clarify some of the text. In our previous lectures, we have seen Jesus speak in parables and the book of Thomas looks like the collection of Parables in the new testament, old testament and some of the provers in the bible. The book started with Jesus saying, “Whoever discovers the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death”. My understanding is that you will need some kind of spiritual understanding to fully understand the secret saying of Jesus and when he said whoever discovers the interpretation of the saying will not taste death, it might not mean physical death. My interpretation of this is that once you start to understand the secret teaching of Jesus, you are one step closer in understanding God’s word and his discipleship. In Thomas 20:1-3, Thomas 96, when his disciples asked him how his empire looks like, he answered “it is like a mustard seed” and I found this similar to our previous lecture in Matthew 13 and Luke 13.

In Thomas 90, Jesus said, “come to me, for my yoke is comfortable and my authority is gentle, and you will find rest for yourselves.” This is similar to Matthew 11:28-30. Moreover, In Thomas 99:1-3, when his disciples said to him that his brothers and mother are standing out, Jesus replied, the one who does the fathers work are his brothers and his sisters. I think there is similar text in Matthew 12:46-50. Even though the book of Thomas does not really address the scripture in a storytelling like the other gospels, I found many of the text very similar in meaning to the other gospels. The only problem I encountered with this text was that the chapters are mostly independent sentences and if you take the meaning literally, you might not get the true meaning of the text. But if you follow the video, some of the meaning of the text was slightly modified for easier interpretation of the meaning. Reading the text before matching the video helped me to differentiate the text and the interpretation given by the author of the video.  Generally, I would find the text hard to understand if I didn’t have any knowledge of the bible. I am glad we are doing this after we covered the four Gospels because the discussion from the previous gospels helped me understand the text, in addition to the video.

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