Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reflections on the Accuracy of Daniel

* A paper I wrote for a seminary class.  It has some good bibliographic information for further study.


            The book of Daniel has been the subject of vigorous debate regarding its historicity, accuracy, and dating.  Conservative evangelical scholars have often defended a sixth-century B.C. date for the book while those of a more liberal, critical mindset have argued for a date in the second-century B.C.  Evangelical scholars Alan Millard and Edwin Yamauchi have both written on the issues related to the accuracy of Daniel.  This paper will summarize two of their articles and then provide an assessment of their argumentation as well as briefly discuss other issues related to the accuracy of the book of Daniel.[1]
            Yamauchi divides his article into two parts as he looks at “historical problems” and then at “linguistic and archaeological data” associated with Daniel.  Under the category of historical problems Yamauchi considers four areas of controversy.  First, there are issues related to Nebuchadnezzar.  These include the dating discrepancy between Daniel 1.1 and Jeremiah 46.2.  This is “readily explained by the use of different calendars (Nisan and Tishri), and of different regnal systems.”[2]  Another concern revolves around the Babylonian names given to Daniel and his three friends.  Yamauchi notes the work of a distinguished Assyriologist who has proposed an explanation on the basis of Akkadian analogies.  The issue of the use of the word “Chaldeans” as anachronistic is looked at as well and given a plausible explanation.
            The second area concerns the relationship of Nabonidus and Belshazzar.  Belshazzar is mentioned in Daniel but Nabonidus is not.  Nabonidus is the acknowledged king of Babylon but cuneiform evidence shows that his son Belshazzar was left in charge in Babylon after Nabonidus moved to the Arabian city Tema. 
            The third area Yamauchi addresses is the potential relationship between Nebuchadnezzar’s derangement and Nabonidus’ exile.  Some have attempted to argue that these two episodes are the same but Yamauchi notes “there are far more dissimilarities than resemblances.”[3]
            A fourth area concerns the identity of Darius the Mede.  Since there is no clear extra-biblical evidence for such a person the identity of Darius has been suspect.  Yamauchi notes that two evangelical responses have been to align Darius with either Gubaru or Cyrus.  Yamauchi does acknowledge that none of the proposed solutions to this problem have been entirely satisfactory.  Yamauchi helpfully adds:
The failure to appreciate the fragmentary nature of available evidence leads to the false assumption that a figure in literary sources must be unhistorical if contemporary epigraphical documentation for his existence is unavailable.  It was not until 1961 that the first epigraphical text for Pontius Pilate was discovered, and it was not until 1966 that similar documentation for Felix, the governor of Judea, was found.[4]

            Yamauchi, in the second section of his paper, interacts briefly with alleged linguistic problems.  He looks at an Egyptian loanword, the use of Aramaic, and the presence of Greek words for instruments in Daniel 3.5.  All of these are given plausible explanations.  Yamauchi, in particular, looks at the debate on Daniel’s Aramaic.  Rowley’s 1929 study alleging a second-century date due to the type of Aramaic is countered by noting the work of a number of scholars who have disputed Rowley’s findings. 
            In light of the above discussions Yamauchi is able to conclude with these wise words:
It is clear that liberal commentators do not acknowledge that there are possible solutions to the historical problems in the Book of Daniel… Conservative scholars welcome the increasing mass of linguistic and archaeological data which helps support an early date or at least helps undermine arguments for a late date for Daniel.[5]

            Millard’s essay covers many of the same items as Yamauchi’s article: the dating issue of Daniel 1.1, the relationship between Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and Nabonidus’ Prayer, the relationship between the kingships of Nabonidus and his son Belshazzar, the identity of Darius the Mede, and the linguistic issues revolving around Persian, Greek, and Aramaic words.  Millard comes to many of the same conclusions as those of Yamauchi.
            Millard does address a few additional issues.  First, there is a discussion of Belshazzar’s feast and death.  Millard links this to other ancient histories and shows the plausibility of the Daniel account.  Second, Millard discusses the reality of the Median kingdom.  He points to the historical data regarding these people and then discusses their role in Daniel.  Millard correlates the Medes with the second element in Daniel’s vision of the statue in chapter two.[6]  Third, Millard briefly examines the relationship between Daniel’s mention of 120 satraps (Dan 6.1) and the mention of Darius I appointing twenty “satrapies” as found in the writing of Herodotus.  Millard explains that the underlying word used in Daniel has the potential for a broader meaning.  He concludes: “The possibility may be envisaged, therefore, that the term could be applied more widely than Herodotus’s report about the reign of Darius I implies.”[7]
            Millard and Yamauchi in their respective articles examine a number of details that point to a sixth-century B.C. date for Daniel.  At the very least, they attempt to provide plausible explanations to objections against a sixth-century date. 
            Although literary documents and archaeological data are important in assessing the date of Daniel the larger issue of background presuppositions plays a role in the assessment of the literary and archaeological evidence.  The book of Daniel is written from a sixth-century perspective but the fact that it prophesies events centuries in the future leads many scholars to conclude that the document must be a second-century creation.  W. S. Towner is very forthright in his presuppositional stance:
We need to assume that the vision as a whole is a prophecy after the fact.  Why?  Because human beings are unable to predict future events centuries in advance and to say that Daniel could do so, even on the basis of a symbolic revelation vouchsafed to him by God and interpreted by an angel, is to fly in the face of the certainties of human nature.  So what we have here is in fact not a road map of the future laid down in the sixth century B.C. but an interpretation of the events of the author’s own time, 167-164 B.C. …[8]

For those, like the present author, who affirm a supernaturalistic worldview Towner’s position is suspect due to its underlying naturalism.  The arguments for a sixth-century B.C. date for Daniel are strong and the objections to such a date have often been addressed by evangelical Old Testament scholars.  Gleason Archer, for example, in a hard-hitting article defending a sixth-century date concludes his essay with the following: “It is therefore safe to say that no Bible scholar can today make a defensible claim to intellectual respectability and still maintain the theory of a Maccabean time of composition for this remarkable book…”[9]
            For the rest of this essay the perennial issue of the identity of Darius the Mede will be briefly examined.  Both Yamauchi and Millard mention the work of Donald Wiseman who argued that Darius the Mede is to be identified with Cyrus.  Yamauchi and Millard both recognize that this view is not entirely convincing in light of the lack of archaeological confirmation.  Lester Grabbe in a 1988 article surveys three evangelical perspectives on Darius the Mede—including Wiseman’s view.  Grabbe dismisses Wiseman in less than a page.  He argues that Wiseman’s view has no positive data or argumentation.  He concludes that Wiseman’s view is “only an exercise in apologetics.”[10]  Grabbe’s view is the typical critical perspective: Darius “is simply a creation from commonplace beliefs about Persian times.”[11] 
            Subsequent to Grabbe’s discussion William Shea took up the challenge of Darius the Mede and responded to Grabbe’s conclusions.[12]  Space forbids a full summary of Shea’s arguments but the general structure of his analysis is to walk through the textual data as well as the archaeological evidence to see how the “Darius as Cyrus” hypothesis fares.  Shea concludes:
The ultimate argument for Cyrus as Darius the Mede must stem from the issue of how well this hypothesis explains all of the data involved.  I would suggest that the use of D. J. Wiseman’s theory that Cyrus was Darius the Mede affords better explanations for more biblical references than any other hypothesis.  In fact, some of these very intimate details of history have gone unexplained until this hypothesis has been applied to them.  Thus, the identification of Cyrus as Darius the Mede in the book of Daniel brings to these unexplained details of that book the very best explanation yet available.[13]

It is instructive to compare the methodology of Grabbe and Shea in this matter.  Grabbe considers Wiseman’s “working hypothesis” to be devoid of any “positive data or argumentation.[14]  This is a truncated view of the matter.  Shea’s methodology is to truly take Wiseman’s proposal as a working hypothesis and to test how the relevant data that is available is illuminated by such a proposal.  This is an appropriate “inference-to-the-best-explanation” approach to historiography.  William Craig, in his discussion of the nature of historical knowledge, describes the process this way:
According to this approach, we begin with the evidence available to us and then infer what would, if true, provide the best explanation of that evidence.  Out of a pool of live options determined by our background beliefs, we select the best of various competing potential explanations to give a causal account of why the evidence is as it is rather than otherwise.[15]

Craig’s comments draw attention to the issue of one’s “background beliefs” as one element of determination.  For the conservative evangelical a part of one’s relevant background beliefs will be such items as the epistemic authority of the Scriptures in general as well as the belief in a transcendent God who rules over creation and history.  Given these presuppositional commitments it is entirely rational to seek historical harmonization utilizing plausible scenarios as a working hypothesis.[16]
            While critical scholars have often alleged a second-century B.C. date for Daniel conservative evangelicals have provided reasonable answers to the typical objections for a sixth-century B.C. date.  Although certainty is not possible in every instance, there are plausible explanations for the challenges to the early date.  Many times the philosophical presuppositions play an important factor in the assessment of the data.


Archer, Jr. Gleason L. “Modern Rationalism and the Book of Daniel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 136
(1979): 129-147.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, Ill.:
Crossway, 1994.

Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman III. An Introduction to the Old Testament. Grand
Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.

Grabbe, Lester L. “Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede’.” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly 50 (1988): 198-213.

Millard, Alan R. “Daniel in Babylon: An Accurate Record?” Pages 263-280 in Do Historical
Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012.

Shea, William H. “Darius the Mede in his Persian-Babylonian Setting.” Andrews University
Seminary Studies 29 (1991): 235-257.

Shea, William H. “Nabonidus Chronicle: New Readings and the Identity of Darius the Mede.”
Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 7 (1996): 1-20.

Shea, William H. “The Search for Darius the Mede (Concluded), or The Time of the Answer
to Daniel’s Prayer and the Date of the Death the Mede.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12 (2001): 97-105.

Waltke, Bruce K. “The Date of the Book of Daniel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (1976): 319-329.

Yamauchi, Edwin M. “The Archaeological Background of Daniel.” Bibliotheca Sacra 137
(1980): 3-16.

     [1] The two articles to be discussed are: Edwin M. Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137 (1980), 3-16; Alan R. Millard, “Daniel in Babylon: An Accurate Record?” in Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 263-280.
     [2] Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” 3.
     [3] Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” 7.
     [4] Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” 9.
     [5] Yamauchi, “The Archaeological Background of Daniel,” 13.
     [6] Bruce K. Waltke in an essay also arguing for a sixth-century B.C. date for Daniel argues that the Medes should be linked with the Persian empire as the second element with the third element being Greece and the fourth element being the Roman empire.  “The Date of the Book of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 133 (1976), 326.
     [7] Millard, “Daniel in Babylon,” 277.
     [8] Quoted in Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 332.
     [9] Gleason L. Archer, Jr. “Modern Rationalism and the Book of Daniel,” Bibliotheca Sacra 136 (1979), 147.
     [10] Lester L. Grabbe, “Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede’” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50 (1988), 207.
     [11] Grabbe, “Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede’,” 211.
     [12] William H. Shea, “Darius the Mede in his Persian-Babylonian Setting,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 29 (1991), 235-257.  It should be noted that Shea subsequently changed his mind regarding the Cyrus and Darius connection.  In later essays he went back to a view he had previously propounded, namely that Darius is to be identified with Ugbaru, the general who conquered Babylon for Cyrus.  Either way, Shea has effectively argued for two possible answers for the identity of Darius.  For Shea’s later view see: “Nabonidus Chronicle: New Readings and the Identity of Darius the Mede,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 7 (1996), 1-20; “The Search for Darius the Mede (Concluded), or The Time of the Answer to Daniel’s Prayer and the Date of the Death the Mede,” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12 (2001), 97-105.
     [13] Shea, “Darius the Mede in his Persian-Babylonian Setting,” 255-256.
     [14] Grabbe, “Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede’,” 207.
     [15] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 182-183.
     [16] To speak of “presuppositional commitments” is to stress how these beliefs function.  It is not to allege that such commitments are without rational support or devoid of demonstration themselves.

Mapping the Origins Debate: A Summary of Gerald Rau's Taxonomy

Mapping the Origins Debate: Six Models of the Beginning of Everything
by Gerald Rau (Downers Grove, Ill.: 2012)[1]

1.     Naturalistic evolution (NE):

“When most people use the term evolution, what they are referring to is naturalistic evolution (NE), based on philosophical naturalism, the conviction that everything can be explained by natural causes.  Naturalism is closely related to materialism, the idea that there is no reality apart from the material world, so naturalistic evolution could also be called materialistic evolution, but naturalistic is preferred since evolution is an explanation of a process rather than the underlying substance.” (42)

·      Philosophical axiom.  There is no supernatural, or nothing can be known about the supernatural.

·      Inferences.  Evidence from the natural world, empirical evidence, is the only basis for knowledge, so science is the only way of knowing and only explanations based on natural processes are allowed.

·      Logical conclusions.  Since the only things we can know are natural, anything else is mere speculation or pure falsehood. (43)

Proponents: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward O. Wilson, Ernst Mayr, Eugenie Scott

“Many of the writers of science textbooks also hold a naturalistic position, whether this directly stated or not.” (43)

2.     Nonteleological evolution (NTE):

“Nonteleological evolution (NTE) posits that there is no intervention of the supernatural after the foundation of the universe.  This is basically a deistic perspective, although many proponents would not willingly accept that moniker.  Many authors who support NTE espouse a liberal Christian theology, such as process theology… The term nonteleological is chosen to convey that although the universe was created with the ability to evolve, there was no specific end or direction (telos) in mind at the beginning.

“Nonteleological evolution is almost identical to naturalistic evolution in interpretation of the scientific evidence, with the exception of the origin of the universe, because it seeks to identify a natural cause for all natural phenomena subsequent to that point.” (44)

·      Philosophical axiom.  There is a supernatural, but whatever the nature of that force, it has no plan for the universe and therefore does not intervene in it.

·      Inferences.  Only natural forces have influenced the universe since its beginning.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since the supernatural does not direct the natural, naturalistic explanations are sufficient to explain any natural phenomenon. (44)

Proponents: Christian de Duve, Ian Barbour, John Haught.

3.     Planned evolution (PE):

“The difference between planned evolution (PE) and the two models just described is again more theological than scientific.  It is nevertheless important to list it as a separate model since the question of teleology, which separates them, plays a prominent role the debate and has important ramifications.  According to this view God had a definite plan in mind, which was set in motion at the moment of creation.” (45)

“According to PE, God has the capacity to intervene in nature but does not need to do so because of the perfection of the original creation, what Howard Van Till (1999) calls ‘the fully gifted creation,’ which is able to bring forth life in various forms over time in response to the changing conditions, ultimately leading to humankind.” (45)

“Scientifically, this results in a position almost identical to naturalistic evolution (NE) and nonteleological evolution (NTE), since God does not regularly intervene in the development of life or species, and therefore natural processes are thought to be sufficient to explain the evidence.  The difference lies in the fact that PE asserts the mechanisms for change were built into creation and established for the specific purpose of bringing about God’s plan of creating sentient being who could worship him.

“Since this model also seeks only natural causes after the moment of creation, the scientific inferences made are in many cases indistinguishable from NE and NTE.” (46)

·      Philosophical axiom.  God created the universe with a plan and created it perfectly to bring that plan to fruition without further intervention.

·      Inferences.  The natural laws and processes created by God are sufficient to account for all natural events since the moment of creation.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since God did not intervene in natural processes after creation, science can always find natural explanations for natural phenomena. (46)

Proponents: Howard Van Till, Francis Collins and the Biologos Foundation, Kenneth Miller

4.     Directed evolution (DE):

“Directed evolution (DE) and planned evolution share a similar overall interpretation of Genesis 1, although proponents of DE are more likely to view Adam and Eve as single individuals, progenitors of the entire human race.  Directed evolution asserts that God not only brought the universe into being but continues to act in it, not only in the lives of individuals in response to prayer but also in creative events, to bring about his plans.  In many cases this does not involve superseding natural law as much as direction of low probability events, hence the name of the model.”  (46-47)

“From a DE perspective, science and religion are not viewed as distinct or complementary domains of knowledge, but as interacting domains of knowledge.  This is a crucial difference.  Complementary domains have no overlap.  They deal with a separate set of questions and answer those questions based on disparate methodologies.  Interacting domains do intersect.  According to this view at least some questions are best addressed using evidence from both domains.  In the case of DE, the only evidence admitted from Scripture about origins is the existence of a deity who intervenes from time to time in miraculous ways, with science providing evidence for mechanism.  The two creationary models, described next, assert that Scripture also tells us something about the method of creation, which DE denies.” (47)

·      Philosophical axiom.  God has a predetermined purpose for the world, and the Bible shows that he intervenes in the natural world as necessary to accomplish that plan.
·      Inferences.  Miracles are recorded in the Bible to show that God intervenes occasionally in redemptive history, so it is reasonable to think the same might be true for natural history.
·      Logical conclusion.  Since we see a large number of low-probability events that seem to be directed toward a goal (teleological), these would be best explained as interventions. (48)

Proponents: “At this point I am not aware of any author who gives a complete scientific and religious justification of this model.” (48)

5.     Old-earth creation (OEC):

“Old-earth creation agrees with DE that science and religion are interacting domains of knowledge, but OEC further asserts that the Genesis account has explicit scientific value, that the order of events in Genesis 1 accurately reflects the order of what happened.” (49)

“At least four different models—PE, DE, OEC and YEC—believe that the Bible and the world are equally important revelations of God, and that the two, properly interpreted, will not conflict with each other.  Reflecting this tension between two sources of knowledge, empirical evidence and religious texts, OEC sometimes chooses to interpret the Bible in the light of scientific evidence, but other times chooses to interpret science in light of the Bible.”  (49)

·      Philosophical axiom.  God chooses to reveal himself through the Bible and creation, both of which clearly disclose his existence and identity.

·      Inferences.  We must find the most straightforward interpretations that allow us to harmonize the biblical statement that God created in six days with the empirical evidence that the universe and earth appear to be billions of years old.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since God wants his actions to be clear, the earth must indeed be billions of years old, and his work in creation will be clearly discernible as discrete creative acts over time, in the same order revealed in the Bible. (49-50)

Proponents: Hugh Ross and the staff of Reasons to Believe, Stephen Meyer, and many others at the Discovery Institute

6.     Young-earth creation (YEC):

“The Christian YEC model claims that the Bible clearly teaches that God created the world and everything in it in six literal twenty-four hour days about six thousand years ago, and that any other view involves ‘reinterpreting the Word of God on the basis of the fallible theories of sinful people’ (Ham, 2006: 88).  Other key tenets of YEC include Adam and Eve, two individuals created de novo by God, being the progenitors of all humans, one act of sin leading to the fall of humankind, no death of any sort before the fall, a worldwide flood and separation of human language groups at the tower of Babel.” (51)

·      Philosophical axiom.  The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and each word should be understood in accord with its normal, common meaning, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary within the Bible text itself.

·      Inferences.  When the Bible says God created everything in six days, it means six sequential twenty-four-hour days.  When it says he created each kind of animal, or that he created man (male and female), it means each was created separately and fully formed.

·      Logical conclusion.  Since the Bible says that God created everything in six days, and each kind of creature individually, only interpretations of scientific observations which are consistent with those revealed truths can be correct.  (52)

Proponents: Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries International, John Morris of Institute for Creation Research, Paul Nelson and John Mark Reynolds of the Discovery Institute, Kurt Wise.

     [1] Rau’s discussion of these models on pages 38-52 can be found here:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Gospel of Thomas: Lecture Notes

Here is the outline I used today in class to cover the Gospel of Thomas.

The Gospel of Thomas

1.     Nag Hammadi library

a.     Discovered in 1945

b.     Translated into English in 1977

c.      13 leather bound books (codices)

d.     Manuscripts dated AD 350-380

e.     Written in Coptic (Egyptian written in the Greek alphabet)

2.     Oxyrhynchus

a.     Discovered in 1890’s

b.     Greek fragments: unknown at time of discovery what they were but with the discovery at Nag Hammadi it was realized that these Greek fragments were pieces of Thomas

c.      About 20% of Thomas in three papyri

                                               i.     P. Oxy 654 = Thomas 1-7, part of 30

                                              ii.     P. Oxy 1 = Thomas 26-33

                                            iii.     P. Oxy 655 = Thomas 24, 36-39, 77

d.     Manuscripts dated AD 200-300

3.     Two views on origins and translation

a.     Greek to Coptic

b.     Syriac to Greek; Syriac to Coptic

4.     Thomas and Gnosticism

a.     Not full-blown Gnosticism but definitely Gnostic elements[1]

                                               i.     Definition of Gnosticism:

1.     Dualism: mixture of good and evil in creation and man; distinction between good transcendent unknowable God and God who created the world.  “The knowable God who is a projection into the creation is the Creator, while the unknowable God is over everything but is too transcendent to be directly involved with the creation.  The true God and the Creator God of Genesis are not the same thing.” [2]

2.     Cosmogony: dualism in the creation itself; “anti-cosmic dualism” which rejects the physical material world as evil and inferior.[3]

3.     Soteriology: “Salvation and redemption are understood primarily in terms of knowledge about creation’s dualistic nature.  Salvation of the nonmaterial spirit or soul within a person is what matters, not a salvation of the creation or of the flesh.  In fact, the flesh is not redeemable.  There is no resurrection of the body from the dead.”[4]

4.     Eschatology: “one understands where existence is headed, namely, the redemption of the soul and the recovery of the creation into the ‘fullness’ or ‘pleroma’ that is where good dwells.”[5]

                                              ii.     See especially verses 18, 29, 36-39, 50, 77, 83-84

b.     Thomas 1 and John 11.25-26

                                               i.     Thomas 1: “And he said, ‘Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not taste death.’”

                                              ii.     John 11.25-26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?’”

1.     “Now we can see how John’s message contrasts with that of Thomas.  Thomas’s Jesus directs each disciple to discover the light within (‘within a person of light there is light’ [24]) but John’s Jesus declares instead that ‘I am the light of the world’ and that ‘whoever does not come to me walks in darkness’ [8.12].  In Thomas, Jesus reveals to the disciples that ‘you are from the kingdom, and to it you shall return’ and teaches them to say for themselves that ‘we come from the light’; but John’s Jesus speaks as the only one who comes ‘from above’ and so has rightful priority over everyone else: ‘You are from below; I am from above …. The one who comes from above is above all.’ [8.23; 3.31]  Only Jesus is from God, and he alone offers access to God.  John never tires of repeating that one must believe in Jesus, follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and confess him alone as God’s only son.  We are not is ‘twin,’ much less (even potentially) his equal; we must follow him, believe in him, and revere him as God in person: thus John’s Jesus declares that ‘you will die in your sins, unless you believe that I am he’ [8.24].”[6]

2.     “At the same time, I was also exploring in my academic work the history of Christianity in the light of the Nag Hammadi discoveries, and this research helped clarify what I cannot love: the tendency to identify Christianity with a single, authorized set of beliefs—however these actually vary from church to church—coupled with the conviction that Christian belief alone offers access to God.”[7]

3.     Pagels is challenged spiritually by Thomas.  For example, verse 70 reads: “Jesus said, ‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.’”  Pagels comments: “The strength of this saying is that it does not tell us what to believe but challenges us to discover what lies hidden within ourselves; and, with a shock of recognition, I realized that this perspective seemed to me self-evidently true.”[8]

5.     Contents of Thomas

a.     Missing Gospel elements in Thomas

                                               i.     No narrative

                                              ii.     No passion/cross

                                            iii.     No resurrection

                                            iv.     Non-eschatological (i.e., Thomas 18)

                                              v.     No “Jewish-ness”: Jewish language and concepts are used but are give a different, non-Jewish understanding

“One of the most telling weaknesses in the whole Q-and-Thomas hypothesis, it seems to me, is the presence within Thomas of sayings about the ‘kingdom of god’, or, as the book regularly calls it, the kingdom of the Father [3, 22, 46, 49, 97, 113, 114].  From our earlier study of the Jewish evidence, it is unthinkable that this motif should be introduced into a community from scratch with the meaning that it comes to have in Thomas, i.e. the present secret religious knowledge of a heavenly world.  It is overwhelmingly likely that the use of this emphatically Jewish kingdom-language originated with an overtly Jewish movement which used it in a sense close to it mainline one, i.e. which spoke of the end of exile, the restoration of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple, the return of YHWH to Zion, and so forth, however much these ideas were transformed within the ministry of Jesus and the lives of his first followers.  If there has been a shift in the usage one way or the other, it is far more likely to have been from this Jewish home base into a quasi-Gnostic sense, rather than from a Gnostic sense, for which there is no known, or imaginable precedent, to a re-Judaized one—a shift which, on the hypothesis, must have taken place somewhere between an early Thomas and a later Mark.”[9]

b.     Thomas doesn’t fit “gospel” message or genre

“When the early Christians picked up the term ‘gospel’, they had in mind the good news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of his teachings.  For example, the earliest Gospel, Mark, is mostly action—focusing on Jesus’ deeds.  It is doubtful that the earliest Christians would have seen a mere collection of teachings, without a recounting of Jesus’ saving activities, as a Gospel… On this account it’s doubtful that we should see the Gospel of Thomas, mostly a collection of teachings, as a Gospel.”[10]

6.     Dating the Gospel of Thomas

a.     Two views

                                               i.     Early: 50-60 (Jesus Seminar)

                                              ii.     Late: 150-185 (majority of scholars)

b.     Arguments for late date

                                               i.     Thomas knows many of the NT writings

                                              ii.     Thomas contains material from the Gospels that many scholars regard as late (i.e., M, L, John)

                                            iii.     Thomas reflects later editing in the Gospel

                                            iv.     Thomas shows familiarity with traditions distinctive to Easter, Syrian Christianity that emerged in the middle of the 2nd century (i.e., name Judas Thomas)

“The attribution of the Gospel to ‘Didymus Judas Thomas’ (prologue) shows that it derives from the East Syrian Christian tradition, centered in Edessa.  It was only in this tradition (from which come also the Book of Thomas and the Acts of Thomas) that the apostle was known as Judas Thomas and regarded as a kind of spiritual twin-brother of Jesus.  Thomas was thought (perhaps correctly) to have been in some sense responsible for the founding of the church in this area, and it is probable that the oral Gospel traditions of this church were transmitted under the name of Thomas and that the Gospel of Thomas drew on these oral traditions.  Its points of contact with other literature from this area and especially its probable use by the Acts of Thomas (end of second or early third century) confirms this hypothesis.”[11]

c.      Arguments for early date

                                               i.     Form is like Q (collection of sayings without narrative) which is early

                                              ii.     Sayings in Thomas are more simple than parallels in canonical Gospels

Example: parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21.33-41; Mk 12.1-9; Lk 20.9-16; Thomas 65)

                                            iii.     Sayings in Thomas do not follow the order in Synoptic Gospels

7.     Answering the arguments for an early date

a.     “Form is like Q.”

                                               i.     Q is a hypothetical construct; no manuscript evidence

                                              ii.     Q could have contained a narrative—who knows?  Speculation abounds.

b.     “Simple sayings = early sayings.”

“Advocates of Thomas’ independence of the canonical Gospels often point to the abbreviated form that many of the parables and sayings have in Thomas.  One of the best known examples is the parable of the wicked tenant farmers (Mt 21:33-41; Mk 12:1-9; Lk 20:9-16; Gospel of Thomas 65).  In the opening verse of Mark’s version approximately eleven words are drawn from Isaiah 5:1-7 to form the backdrop of the parable.  Most of these words do not appear in Thomas.  Crossan takes this as an indication that the older form of the parable has been preserved in Thomas, not in Mark, which supposedly preserves an expanded, secondary version.  However, in Luke’s opening verse only two words from Isaiah 5 (“planted vineyard”) remain.  We have here a clear example of abbreviation of the tradition.  Other scholars have concluded that the version in Thomas is an edited and abridged form of Luke’s version of the parable.  The same possibility applies to the saying about the rejected stone (Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10-11; Lk 20:17; Gospel of Thomas 66).  Mark’s longer version quotes Psalm 118:22-23.  But Luke only quotes Psalm 118:22.  Once again Luke, who depends on Mark and is further removed from the original form of the tradition, has abbreviated the tradition.  The shorter form also appears in Thomas.  Thus, it is risky to draw firm conclusions relating to priority on the basis of which form of the tradition is the shortest and appears abbreviated.  It is thus possible that Gospel of Thomas 65 and 66 are neither separate logia nor derived from pre-Synoptic tradition, but constitute an edited version of Luke’s abbreviation of Mark’s parable.”[12]

c.      “Sayings in Thomas are not in the same order as Synoptic Gospels.”

                                               i.     Gnostic writers of the 2nd century customarily arranged material around themes/catchwords

                                              ii.     We know of one place for certain where the Coptic writer changed the order from the “older” Greek version (P. Oxy 1) to organize it around catchwords. 

1.     The saying on “splitting the wood” which in P. Oxy 1 is at the end of saying 30 becomes part of the 2nd half of saying 77 in the Coptic version.

2.     This creates a link-word between 77a+b; both halves of the spliced verse contain the Coptic verb meaning “attain” or “split”[13]

     [1] Craig A. Evans, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 66-67.
     [2] Darrell L. Bock, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianites (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2006, 19.
     [3] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.
     [4] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.
     [5] Bock, The Missing Gospels, 19.
     [6] Elaine Pagels, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (New York: Vintage, 2003), 68-69.
     [7] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 29.
     [8] Pagels, Beyond Belief, 32.
     [9] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 1992), 440-441—boldface added.
     [10] Ben Witherington III, The Gospel Code: Novel Claims About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Da Vinci (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 97.  Also see Simon Gathercole’s discussion—“ Jesus, the Apostolic Gospel and the Gospels”—summarized at Steve Walton’s blog online:
     [11] Richard J. Bauckham, “Gospels (Apocryphal)” in Joel B. Green, et al., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers, Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 287.
     [12] Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 71—boldface added.
     [13] See Glenn Miller’s online essay “What about the Gospel of Thomas?” for details and further bibliographic information.  Online: