Short Conversations: Why is the Gospel of THOMAS banned from the Bible?

Street Theologian
6 min readOct 25, 2023
Penitent Mary Magdalene. All images from Wikimedia Commons. Gospel of Thomas claims women need to become men to enter the Kingdom.

The truth about the alleged 5th gospel

This is a short format post of a longer article. For more read the below:

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

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Did the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD remove Thomas from the Bible?

The Council of Nicaea related to the divinity of Jesus, not the books of the Bible. The Gospel of Thomas was never formally recognised by the church prior to Nicaea nor afterwards. Hence, it was never removed from the Bible. More on Nicaea here:

Did Constantine INVENT Jesus as God?

Given it was written later than the four Gospels, not written by Thomas, adds no historical value about Jesus, was detached from a first-century Palestinian context, and contains a totally different worldview to Christianity, it was never in serious contention for making it in the Bible.

For starters, it’s not even really a gospel as Witherington argues!

Council of Nicaea

When and where was the Gospel of Thomas discovered?

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 Egyptian? Do the Greek and Coptic versions differ significantly?

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.

Is Thomas like the canonical Gospels?

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. The Gospel of Thomas does not focus on these deeds. Instead, Thomas is comprised of 114 sayings.

Did the author of the Gospel of Thomas know the canonical Gospels existed?

Thomas begins by claiming it refers to the hidden words of Jesus, implying public and plain words of Jesus were known at the time. Scholars such as Simon Gathercole have argued that Saying 13 illustrates the author of Thomas had knowledge of Matthew’s Gospel.

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).

Decretum Gelasiaum lists Thomas as heretical

Did the author know much about first-century Palestine?

Even non-Christian scholar Bart Ehrman concedes Thomas adds no historical value about Jesus.

The four Gospels do a far superior job of detailing common first-century names and geographical locations than the apocryphal Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas is the best of the worst (of the apocryphal gospels) and mentions James the Just, Jesus, Mary, Matthew, Salome, Simon Peter and Thomas (Source Williams Can we Trust the Gospels? 2018, p.69).

Still not remotely close to the number of or precision (eg. disambiguation) of the names found in the canonical Gospels which match what we would expect in first-century Palestine.

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).

Moreover, Thomas presents Jesus more like a Greek philosopher than a Jewish rabbi.

When was Thomas likely written?

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.

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

Did the early church fathers accept Thomas along with the canonical Gospels?

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

Ignatius of Antioch (c.110) shows knowledge of Matthew and John. Papias of Hierapolis (c.125) referred to Matthew, Mark and John.

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

Irenaeus referred to the four Gospels circulating together in the second century. The Muratorian Canon (c. 170), “names the four Gospels as authoritative in and for the church (Witherington, p. 23).”

Thomas, however, got a different treatment. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 225) referred harshly to the Gospel of Thomas. Origen (c.233–244) refers to Thomas circulating at the time of writing but not being approved by the church of God.

Hippolytus of Rome

Eusebius (c.311–323), Cyril of Jerusalem (c.348 AD) and Didymus the Blind all speak against Thomas while the Decretum Gelasianum in c. 491, lists the Gospel of Thomas in a list of apocryphal and heretical books to be forbidden.

Does Thomas contain different teachings to the New Testament?

Indeed- very different. Thomas teaches salvation comes from within (24, 70 and 83) while the canonical Gospels teach salvation is in Jesus (Luke 19:10, Matt. 20:28 etc).

Thomas teaches women need to become men to enter God’s kingdom (114), while the New Testament makes no such statement.

Thomas teaches get naked, and take off your clothes to see the truth about Jesus (37)!

Thomas teaches fasting is a sin, praying brings condemnation, and giving alms harms you (14).

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Street Theologian

Theology and apologetics for those who want to get their hands dirty