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Q and The Gospel of Thomas

Before I move on to discuss other lost books from early Christianity that I would love to have discovered (I know, this thread could go on forever, since I would like *every* early Christian writing to be discovered) I need to answer a couple of queries that I have received about the Q source.

First, several people have asked me whether it is possible that the Q source is actually what we now call the Gospel of Thomas, one of the books discovered among the so-called Nag Hammadi Library in 1945.   I don’t want to go into great depth about the Gospel of Thomas here since, well, it has been discovered and this thread is about book s that have *not* been discovered.  But I do need to say some basics about Thomas and its relation to Q.

By way of background, let me say something a bit more about the Q-hypothesis.   When 19th century German scholars established with a reasonable level of certainty that Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke had both used it as one of their sources (that is the view known as “Markan Priority” – Mark is prior to the other Gospels), they naturally had next to explain the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke that were not found in Mark.

Two things struck scholars about these other passages – such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes.

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  1. Avatar
    shunter  March 18, 2015

    Thank you for your answering this question, which has been pressing on my mind of late.

  2. Avatar
    jonfoulkes  March 18, 2015

    Hello Bart, is it assumed that Q was written in Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      Yes, otherwise you wouldn’t have word for word agreements in the Greek texts of Matthew and Luke.

      • Avatar
        dragonfly  March 20, 2015

        Or they both used copies of the same Greek translation?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 20, 2015

          Yes, that’s possible too. Then you’d have to explain the evidence that Q was originally in Aramaic. Nothing in its sayings points that direction, that I’m aware of.

  3. Avatar
    SteveWalach  March 18, 2015

    I recall that in one of your Teaching Company courses you interpreted the phrase “will not taste death” as tantamount to attaining “immortality.” (I hope I am not misquoting you.)

    I had been inclined to think that the promise of “not tasting death” referred not to an attainment of immortality or eternal life but instead to a reprieve from the many miseries visited upon the dying, such as feelings of loss, hopelessness, abandonment and physical pain.

    Simon Gathercole’s 2014 tome “The Gospel of Thomas — Introduction and Commentary” addresses the passage and he opines that the phrase “will not taste death” in logion 1 means the disciple will “not … avoid physical death” but “transcend” death, “escaping its bitter effects” and “will continue eternally in the primordial paradise.”

    Elaine Pagels’ book on GT is subtitled “Beyond Belief,” and she too finds reasons to think that the secret contained within the gospel was capable of conferring onto its discoverers a salvific experience equal to — or perhaps greater than — the heaven-after-death experience promoted by the proto-orthodox. (I believe I am paraphrasing her fairly.)

    Where do you stand on the value of GT? No passion narrative, no resurrection, but if its internal riddles were solved, could it provide the key to a gnosis that even an agnostic could actually experience — and not be forever vexed by exhortations to believe in the unverifiable, or in some cases the intellectually insupportable?

    Thank you for considering.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      I think Gathercole and Pagels are agreeing with me: Not taste death means receiving eternal life. (I don’t think that it means that a person will never physically die). I’m increasingly thinking that even though Thomas is open to a Gnostic interpretation (very open) it is not necessarily written with an advanced gnostic cosmology presupposed.

      • Avatar
        SteveWalach  March 19, 2015

        I guess when I heard the word “immortality,” I thought you might have been linking GTh’s logion #1 to something akin to a physical resurrection. The omission of Jesus’s death and resurrection in GTh seems to take the entire business of a physical afterlife out of the discussion.

        However, I am aware of people in the last stages of life who were not anticipating eternal life but were in a decidedly peaceful — if not blissful — state. They were not “tasting death” — at least none of the bitterness, fear and pain normally associated with it, but they were not presupposing a pathway to eternal life either. GTh is a set a sayings that emphasizes attainable knowledge of the self/divine in the here-and-now, and speculations about eternal life seem to me more likely a result of proto-orthodox influences — as in heaven/eternal life is attainable only after one dies.

        I can see, though, strands of Gnosticism’s body-soul dualism in GTh but nothing of Gnosticism’s cosmological speculation about aeons, the Demiurge and other Gnostic myths, which can flourish within the imagination but are completely beyond the bounds of human experience. Ironically, the Gnostic myths are not knowable — gnostic — in the best sense of that word. So I agree that GTh does not seem to presuppose an advanced Gnostic cosmology.

        In places, I find GTh more in tune with aspects of the Torah, as are the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip.

        The Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip make many references to the name of the Father and to the son as revealer of the name. GTr and GPh refer more pointedly to the name than the NT. Even though the name crops up on a number of occasions in the NT, it is in a different context than in GTr and GPh.

        As I read the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Truth and the Gospel of Philip, I see a stronger connection to the OT than Gnostic mythology. Is this a minority outlook or are there scholars who also interpret these Nag Hammadi discoveries in light of OT themes?

        Thanks for considering.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 20, 2015

          Yes, that’s a minority opinion. The Gospel of Truth and Gospel of Philip are definitely Valentinian productions; whether Thomas can in any sense be considered “Gnostic” is widely doubted these days, but it is not deeply rooted in the Hebrew Bible.

  4. Avatar
    RGM-ills  March 18, 2015

    Do you think the Gospel of Thomas existed when the canon was being decided and just excluded or that great effort to destroy all of its copies was undertaken?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      It was known — but it’s impossible to say how *widely* known — in the fourth century (that’s the date of the Nag Hammadi Library)

      • Avatar
        RGM-ills  March 19, 2015

        I think there was a systematic effort to eradicate any book that didn’t “fit the agenda”. Classifying them as heretical was the purpose to this end. As you have stated, your primary goal is to persuade others to think. Destruction of so-called heretical books was to prevent thinking. I even suspect Q had portions classified as heretical and thus you cannot find it.

  5. Avatar
    RGM-ills  March 18, 2015

    And do you think “Q” was just lost or also intentionally made difficult to find?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      My guess is that the other Gospels were seen to be more complete and so they were the ones more commonly copied.

  6. Avatar
    billgraham1961  March 18, 2015

    As a result of this post, I read all the way through the Gospel of Thomas today. The shocker came at the very end in Verse 114. Jesus’ advice to women appears to promote something that would run counter to the family values crowd. It would also run counter to our progressive values today on the treatment of women. If we were to meet the real Jesus today, I have to wonder if we would accept him. It’s an interesting question I’ve entertained for several years now. I get the feeling Jesus would be very unpopular in our world, and he may not like the way any of us live either.

    • Avatar
      Eric  April 2, 2015

      By all accounts, he wasn’t too popular in his own world, either.

  7. Avatar
    gavriel  March 18, 2015

    Can you recommend any particular book on Q ?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      I’d suggest either reading a classic, such as B. F. Streeter, The Four Gospels, or a modern treatment of the Synoptic Problem (easily found on Amazon).

  8. Avatar
    nichael  March 19, 2015

    I have what, I hope, doesn’t sound like too stupid a question, but, what _is_ “A Gospel”?

    I guess I’m asking for something like a technical definition. That is, as the discussion above suggests, we include a broad range of texts in the category of “Gospel” (the document has/doesn’t have a passion narrative; does/doesn’t consist almost exclusively of sayings; Jesus does/doesn’t actually appear in the text; does/doesn’t include an appearance by the resurrected Jesus; contains/doesn’t contain information about Jesus’ pre-ministry life; etc). So, how can we, with any precision, decide?

    (Or is this one of those cases where “we know when we see it”?)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      Gospel literally means “good news” and it is usually taken to be a literary text that proclaims the “good news” about or of Jesus. By my definition that would include any book that provides the sayings and/or deeds and experiences of the earthly or post-resurrection Jesus.

      • Avatar
        nichael  March 19, 2015

        Perhaps this cuts to the core of my question:

        By this definition, then, should we consider Acts a “Gospel” (e.g. the announcement of the “Great Commision” in Acts 1) or even some of the epistles (e.g. the appearances described in 1Cor 15)? Or, for that matter, the appearances of Jesus in Revelation?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 20, 2015

          No, it is not in the genre of Gospel, since it is not principally about the life, death, or teachings of Jesus.

  9. Avatar
    Patrick  March 19, 2015

    In you next post can you say whether any of the sayings in Thomas are a match word-by-word for sayings from Q?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      Almost always there are differences in wording, even if they are close.

  10. Avatar
    Samuel Riad  March 19, 2015

    Regarding the centurion miracle a similar miracle is in John too (Jn 4:46-54) Does this possibly exclude Q as the source? Also, a bit off topic, do you think the passion narrative of Mark and John are somehow related? Thanks Bart

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      It’s one of the options. Possibly the story was in Q. Possibly it was more widely known and not from Q. Possibly it was both more widely known *and* in Q!

  11. Avatar
    Rosekeister  March 19, 2015

    Does Q, James, Thomas and the Didache indicate that there were multiple groups from at least some of the earliest followers of Jesus throughout the 1st century and beyond whose interpretation of Jesus’ life and teachings did not center on crucifixion, atonement and resurrection?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2015

      YES! I’ll say something about this in a post soon — possibly this week!

  12. Avatar
    walid  March 19, 2015

    hello all,
    professor Ehrman
    I am quoting someone I don’t actually know from wikipaedia, so please forgive me:

    (Valantasis and other scholars argue that it is difficult to date Thomas because, as a collection of logia without a narrative framework, individual sayings could have been added to it gradually over time.[28] (However, Valantasis does date Thomas to 100 – 110 AD, with some of the material certainly coming from the first stratum which is dated to 30 – 60 AD.[29]))

    if we assume an earlier date and add the ^fact^ that Q comes earlier than both Matthew and Luke.
    Is it safe to say that yes, the passion, resurrection, diefication of jesus are all later theologies?


    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2015

      No, I don’t think so. Paul already knew about these views in the 30s, years before Q came into existence.

  13. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  March 20, 2015

    After all this time
    It’s the freemason
    And illuminati lol jk
    So that picture on mobile user
    Jesus is walking with some one who is that ?

    ” Google john gesture ” looks like that same thing bart
    Leonardo was a freemason ?

    Gospel of Thomas
    Line 46
    John first word
    Then every 3rd after
    For a few words
    Why is there
    Mathew, mark, luke and John
    Inspired by 4 major direction
    N W E S
    why every 3rd
    Word ?
    3rd day
    3 crosses ?
    33 ?
    33 degrees in freemason ?
    Just blogging is all

    Let this be a sign to you mr ehrman
    Love you blog by the way 🙂

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 20, 2015

    Great question. I had wondered the same thing. Great answer. Thanks

  15. Avatar
    Kabir  March 23, 2015

    Hello Prof. Bart,
    In the book of John 8:8 we are told Jesus “wrote” and almost All Scholars agreed “Aramaic” was the Language he spoke while he walk this earth.
    My question is, is there any possibility that Jesus most have learn Greek or even writes in Greek beside Hebrew (if he does speak or writes that)?
    What really happen to the Aramaic language, are there not people then who are educated in Aramaic?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 23, 2015

      I don’t think a lower class rural person from a remote part of Galilee would have been able to write anything, or that he would have known Greek. And yes, there were well-educated people with Aramaic as their native tongue (for example, Josephus).

    • Avatar
      Eric  April 2, 2015

      Kabir, just read a collection of your 15th century “Songs.” (admittedly, I’m afraid, in English translation). Great stuff. Are you now adding Christianity to you lampooning (in addition to your original treatments of Hinduism and Islam)?

  16. Avatar
    tec130  April 1, 2015

    “Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.” Perhaps Jesus already knew the correct interpretation and “went out” that way. Thus no need for death on cross, etc. What say you?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2015

      My guess is that he means that the correct interpretation of his sayings will lead to eternal life (not that a person — or Jesus — won’t physically die)

  17. Avatar
    Fredwage  April 16, 2018

    You are so emphatic in denying GThomas is Q.

    Your reasoning is the absence of much of GT in the other documents. Your previous works would tend not to corroborate this thought. From the moment Catholic elements desirous of salvation began to manipulate the Gospels to fit their agenda, they aggressively began removing all context that impeded their vision. As such Luke 17:21 is the only Biblical reference left of Kingdom within and without. What has been rendered is extremely rehashed subjective sensoring yet treated as objective commentary. The Gospel of Thomas was omitted from the compilation because it violated the mission of the Catholic founders

    • Bart
      Bart  April 16, 2018

      Q is defined as the material shared in Matthew and Luke that is not in Mark. Most of that material is not in Thomas. And most of Thomas is not in that material. That’s why scholars of Q and scholars of Thomas do not think they are the same document.

      • Avatar
        Fredwage  April 17, 2018

        In reflection, the critical issue now is not what the nature of the Q document was, or even the earliest copies of Mark, which I am fairly sure met editing. The critical issue is whether a small portion of humanity has the capacity to reach beyond the inhibitions of the Abrahamic Tradition and strict Darwinism to assemble a new vision of humanity that merges key elements of Cosmology and universal truths that are prevalent in Gospel of Thomas but redacted nearly completely from the Bible. Catholism has done humanity a great disservice with their Passion vision of who we are. As did Mohammad with the Quran. Can we build a transcending vision of who we are and why we are here? That is the critical nexus preparing the way for the future of humanity.

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