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Q: A friend of mine recently read The Five Gospels, which I understand was written by the "Jesus Seminar." She tells me that the fifth Gospel is the Gospel of Thomas and that it is as authentic and trustworthy as the Gospels in the Bible. Is this true? What is this Gospel of Thomas and where did it come from? Why isn't it part of the New Testament?

Norma Erickson Poling
Scottsdale, Arizona

A:One hundred years ago, three Greek fragments of what is called the Gospel of Thomas were found in the dry sands of Egypt. They dated to the third century after Christ. Then, shortly after World War II, a complete manuscript of Thomas was found, also in Egypt. It was written in the Coptic language and dated to the middle of the fourth century. This complete Thomas is made up of 114 sayings with no narrative framework and no mention of Jesus' Passion or Resurrection.

Scholars have studied this text with great interest since its discovery. The Jesus Seminar places high value on the historical basis of the Gospel of Thomas—that it recovers for us words Jesus actually spoke that are not found in our four Gospels. But many other scholars, conservatives and liberals alike, view this document more cautiously. Most think that it is no more than a second-century collection of sayings loosely based on the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and other writings, and that it offers nothing that is original or older.

So why does the Jesus Seminar interpret it differently? This group of scholars and pastors—which does not represent a broad cross section of biblical scholarship—continues to be in the news and popular media. On the basis of ten years of deliberations over the sayings of Jesus in the New Testament Gospels, ...

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June 15, 1998

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