Gospel of Thomas Commentary

174,747 words

This compilation explores modern interpretations of the Gospel according to Thomas, an ancient text preserved in a Coptic translation at Nag Hammadi and Greek fragments at Oxyrhynchus. With no particular slant, this commentary gathers together quotations from various scholars in order to elucidate the meaning of the sayings, many of which are right...

Saying 3 - The kingdom is within us

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text


(3) Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: See, the kingdom is in heaven, then the birds of the heaven will go before you; if they say to you: It is in the sea, then the fish will go before you. But the kingdom is within you, and it is outside of you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you are in poverty, and you are poverty.


(3) Jesus said, "If those who lead you (plur.) say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in heaven,' then the birds of heaven will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. But the kingdom is inside of you. And it is outside of you. "When you become acquainted with yourselves, then you will be recognized. And you will understand that it is you who are children of the living father. But if you do not become acquainted with yourselves, then you are in poverty, and it is you who are the poverty."


2 [3]. Jesus says: "If those who seek to attract you say to you: 'See, the Kingdom is in heaven!' then the birds of heaven will be there before you. If they say to you: 'It is in the sea!' then the fish will be there before you. But the kingdom is within you and it is outside of you!" 3 [3]. "When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you will be in a state of poverty, and it is you the poverty!"


Oxyrhynchus Greek Fragment

DORESSE - Oxyrhynchus

Je[sus] says: ["If those] who seek to attract you [say to you: 'See,] the Kingdom [is] in hea[ven, then] the birds of hea[ven will be there before you. If they say: 'It] is under the earth!' [then] the fishes of the sea [will be there be]fore you. And the Kingd[om of heaven] is within you! [He who? . . .] knows this will find [. . .] [When] you know yourselves, [then you will know that] it is you who are [the sons] of the [living] Father. [But if you do not] know yourselves, then [. . .] and it is you the poverty!"

ATTRIDGE - Oxyrhynchus

(3) Jesus said, "[If] those who lead you [say to you, 'See], the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky [will precede you. If they say that] it is under the earth, then the fish of the sea [will enter it, preceding] you. And, the [kingdom of God] is inside of you, [and it is outside of you. Whoever] knows [himself] will discover this. [And when you] come to know yourselves, [you will realize that] you are [sons] of the [living] father. [But if you] will [not] know yourselves, [you dwell] in [poverty] and it is you who are that poverty."


Funk's Parallels

POxy654 3
Jesus says, "[If] your leaders [say to you, Behold], the kingdom is in heaven, the birds of heaven [will precede you. If they say] that it is under the earth, the fish of the sea [will enter, preceding] you. And the [kingdom of God] is within you [and outside (you). Whoever] knows [oneself] will find this. [And when you] know yourselves, [you will understand that] you are [children] of the [living] Father. [But if] you do [not] know yourselves, [you are] in [poverty], and you are the [poverty]."

GThom 113
His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?" "It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, Behold, here or Behold, there. Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it."

GThom 51
His disciples said to him, "When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?" He said to them, "What you look for has come, but you do not know it."

Luke 17:20-21
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

Matt 24:23-38
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark.

Mark 13:21-23
And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.

DialSav 16
The Lord said, "There was darkness and water and spirit upon [water]. And I say [to you, ... what] you seek [after ...] inquire after [...] within you [...] the power and the [mystery ...] spirit, for from [...] wickedness [...] come [...] mind [...] behold [...]."

DialSav 30
The Lord [said], "[Everyone] who has known himself has seen [it in] everything given to him to do [...] and has come to [...] it in his [goodness]."


Scholarly Quotes

Funk and Hoover point out a similar text in Baruch 3:29-30:

"Has anyone climbed up to heaven and found wisdom? Has anyone returned with her from the clouds? Has anyone crossed the sea and discovered her? Has anyone purchased her with gold coin?"

(The Five Gospels, p. 472)

Marvin Meyer quotes a similar expression from the Manichaean Psalm Book 160,20-21:

"Heaven's kingdom, look, it is inside us, look, it is outside us. If we believe in it, we shall live in it for ever."

(The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 69)

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write:

"The Greek version of Thomas says that the kingdom is within; the Coptic adds that it is also outside, perhaps because the Naassenes spoke of the kingdom as 'hidden and manifest at the same time.' According to Saying 111, the kingdom 'is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.' It should be noted that Thomas does not speak of 'the kingdom of God.' Indeed, 'God' is mentioned only in Saying 97, where he is evidently subordinated to Jesus ('gods' occurs in Saying 31). Wherever the synoptic parallels speak of God, Thomas deletes the word or substitutes 'heaven' or 'the Father' or 'my Father.' Like other Gnostics, he prefers not to use the ordinary term 'God'; he may be reserving it for use as the name of an inferior power."

(The Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 121)

J. D. Crossan writes:

"most likely, the correct restoration for the fragmented line 15 of Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 654 is 'king[dom of God],' the same phrase that appears in lines 7-8 of Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 1. Both those expressions from the Greek fragments of the Gospel of Thomas met with, according to Harold Attridge, 'deliberate deletion' in their respective Coptic translations at Gospel of Thomas 3 and 27"

(The Historical Jesus, p. 284).

Stevan Davies writes:

"When people actualize their inherent ability to perceive through primordial light, they perceive the world to be the kingdom of God (Gos. Thom. 3, 113)."


Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write:

"The Kingdom of God is no longer an eschatological reality. It has become a present, 'spiritual' phenomenon. It is 'spread out upon the earth and men do not see it' (113/111). It is not in the heaven or in the sea (3/2; cf. Rom. 10:6-7) but 'within you and outside you.' The inwardness of the Kingdom is derived, in Gnostic exegesis, from Luke 17:21; the outwardness probably refers to its heavenly or incomprehensible nature. In any event, it is not future, but present."

(Gnosticism & Early Christianity, p. 187)

Funk and Hoover write:

"This phrase ['know yourselves'] is a secular proverb often attributed to Socrates. It is used here to refer to the self as an entity that has descended from God - a central gnostic concept. 'Children of the living Father' (v. 4) is also a gnostic phrase (compare Thomas 49-50), which refers to people who, by virtue of their special knowledge, are able to reascend to the heavenly domain of their Father. Parallels in more orthodox Christian texts indicate that followers of Jesus are also called 'children.' The use of the term 'poverty' for life outside true knowledge (v. 5) is typical of gnostic writings."

(The Five Gospels, pp. 472-473)

Bruce Chilton writes:

"In fact, the closest analogy in the Synoptic Gospels to the rhetoric of the argument in Thomas 3 is attributed not to Jesus but to his Sadducean opponents (Matt. 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40). They set up a hypothetical question of a woman who marries a man, who then dies childless. Following the practice commanded in Deut. 23:5-6, his brother marries her to continue the deceased's name, but then he dies childless as well, as do his five remaining brothers. The point of this complicated scenario is to ridicule the idea of the resurrection of the dead by asking whose wife the woman will be in the resurrection. As in Thomas 3, the syllogism is designed to provoke mockery of the position that is attacked, and it depends on the prior acceptance of what it is reasonable to say and of how logic should be used. In short, both the Sadducees' argument and the argument of the 'living Jesus' commend themselves to schoolmen and seem as far from the ethos of Jesus himself as the concern for what the leaders of churches might say. Those who would attribute the form of Thomas 3 to Jesus reveal only their own uncritical attachment to a source that is fashionable in certain circles simply because it is not canonical."

(Pure Kingdom, p. 72)


Visitor Comments


There are other interesting parallels. See Deut. 30:11-14 and Romans 10:6-8.
- Steve Allison

"When you know yourself then you will be known" suggests that the grammatically based distinction between subject and object vanishes when we enter the Kingdom. It suggests that our proclivity to make distinctions with our intellect obscures the unity of existence. Although this proclivity allows us to create "the world" (but only in our imagination), it also makes us miserable in it. It also leads us to do some very stupid things. There are no conceptual distinctions in the Kingdom of God. There is only life.
- Simon Magus

Simply put, this saying conveys the fact that God did not give us religion. We must find our own way.
- John Feth

Poverty is not knowing your self, for even then the birds and the fish proceed you.
- Ardele

The first two sentences suggest that Jesus is saying that many, if not all, of the leaders of Christians do not know what they are talking about when they talk about where sincere Christians are going and where true Christianity is going, which is to the kingdom.
- Steve Caper

Only if we could reach deep within ourselves God is in us. The daily evidence of God in us can be seen around us. Where is God? He does not sit in heaven or hell. He is omnipotent...just being and just here. That's a consolation. And my personal favourite verse.
- pilgrim

Poverty is a technical term ---poverty of egoism is the target. Then you will know yourself. Knowing yourself entails overcoming your lower nature [cf nafs], one becomes impoverished of its contaminants so to say
- Thief37

"When you know yourself then you will be known"....is synonymous with "know thyself." Once we start to know ourselves then we may realize God's existense is within as it is outside of ourselves, hence finding our value among all other beings in this world. Here lies the link between Christianity and all religions of the world. Another point worth mentioning is that about "being known"; to truly know yourself will make you known to others as this is the most difficult spiritual task known to man, and other seekers will wish to know how you got there...see what happend to Jesus! For further reading check what Buddha has to say on self knowledge, and even spiritualists such as Gurdjieff or Ouspenski.
- Owl

Jesus is saying the kingdom is within us. Anything outside of that realization has no value.
- King

This verse expresses what I deduced about a decade ago--that the Kingdom is not a physical place or a location so much as a state of mind. The way to get there is to live a good life, not to travel. It also has implications about churches--why would one piece of land be considered holy when the Kingdom itself, the Holy of Holies, is inside us?
- Dinwar

as Buddha said, know thyself and know ten thousand things, which is his way of saying you will know the source. In Buddhism the source is named nothing, which in it contains everything and the infinite.
- bravenewmind

God dwells in each of us. When we mutually acknowledge His presence, we take a step individually and as collectively toward peace, brotherhood, and equality.
- arbykay

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