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 4 - The first will be last

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text


(4) Jesus said: The man aged in days will not hesitate to ask a little child of seven days about the place of life, and he shall live; for there are many first who shall be last, and they will become a single one.


(4) Jesus said, "A person advanced in days will not hesitate to question a little child seven days old about the place of life. And that person will live. For many that are first will be last, and they will become one."


4 [4]. Jesus says: "Let the old man heavy with days hesitate not to ask the little child of seven days about the Place of Life, and he will live! For it will be seen that many of the first will be last, and they will become a


Oxyrhynchus Greek Fragment

DORESSE - Oxyrhynchus

[Jesus says:] "The ma[n heavy with da]ys will not hesitate to ask the little [child of seven da]ys about the Place of [Life! For you will] see that many of the fi[rst] will be [last, and] the last first, and [that they will] be [a ]

ATTRIDGE - Oxyrhynchus

(4) [Jesus said], "The [man old in days] will not hesitate to ask [a small child seven days old] about the place [of life, and] he will [live]. For many who are [first] will become [last, and] the last will be first, and [they will become one and the same]."


Funk's Parallels

POxy654 4
[Jesus says], "A [person old in] days will not hesitate to ask a [little child seven days] old about the place of [life, and] that person will [live]. For many of the [first] will be [last, and] the last first, and they [will become one]."

Luke 10:21-22
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.

Luke 13:30
And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

Matt 11:25-30
At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matt 19:27-30
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my names sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.

Matt 20:16
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.

Mark 10:27-31
And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospels, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

InThom 7:1-4
Now when Zacchaeus the teacher heard so many such allegorical descriptions of the first letter being expounded, he was perplexed at such a reply and such great teaching and said to those who were present: "Woe is me, I am forced into a quandary, wretch that I am; I have brought shame to myself in drawing to myself this child. Take him away, therefore, I beseech you, brother Joseph. I cannot endure the severity of his look, I cannot make out his speech at all. This child is not earth-born; he can tame even fire. Perhaps he was begotten even before the creation of the world. What belly bore him, what womb nurtured him I do not know. Woe is me, my friend, he stupefies me, I cannot follow his understanding. I have deceived myself, thrice wretched man that I am! I strove to get a disciple, and have found myself with a teacher. My friends, I think of my shame, that I, an old man, have been overcome by a child. I can only despair and die because of this child, for I cannot in this hour look him in the face. And when all say that I have been overcome by a small child, what have I to say? And what can I tell concerning the lines of the first letter of which he spoke to me? I do not know, my friends, for I know neither beginning nor end of it. Therefore I ask you, brother Joseph, take him away to your house. He is something great, a god or an angel or what I should say I do not know."


Scholarly Quotes

Jack Finegan refers to a quote by Hippolytus from a Gospel according to Thomas used by the Naassenes:

"He who seeks me will find me in children from seven years old; for there in the fourteenth age, having been hidden, I shall become manifest."

(Hidden Records of the Life of Jesus, p. 243)

Jack Finegan writes:

"The saying ascribed by Hippolytus (Text 85 §282) to the Gospel according to Thomas, as used by the Naassenes, bears at least some similarity ot the present text, and this makes it probable that the work to which Hippolytus referred was the same as that with which we are dealing, although the Naassenes may have had their own revision of it. Likewise the Manicheans may have made use of the Gospel according to Thomas, which would account for Cyril's statements (§285) connecting it with them; but since the Gospel must now be dated well prior to Hippolytus (230) it could not have been written, as Cyril claimed, by a disciple of Mani, since the latter only began to preach in 242 (§115)."

(Hidden Records of the Life of Jesus, p. 246)

Marvin Meyer writes of the words "a little child seven days old" in the Gospel of Thomas:

"This phrase probably indicates an uncircumcised child (a Jewish boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day), otherwise a child of the sabbath of the week of creation (compare Genesis 2:2-3)."

(The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 70)

Gerd Ludemann writes:

"This verse contains the Gnostic theme of the child as a revealer (cf. 22.1-2). In Gnostic texts Jesus appears as a little child (Acts of John 88), or Gnostic teachers claim to have seen a little newborn child which is identical with the divine Word (Valentinus)."

(Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 592)

Jean Doresse writes:

"Jesus, 'he who was not born of woman' (16), is also frequently called 'Jesus the Living'. Could it also perhaps be Jesus who is referred to under the appearance of 'the child of seven days' (4)?"

(The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, p. 344)

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write:

"If knowledge about the 'place of life' can be given to an old man by an infant, it is evident that the knowledge is not ordinary human wisdom but something derived from revelation. This saying is probably the Gnostic explanation of the words of Jesus in Mark 10:14-15: 'Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God; verily I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will not enter into it' (cf., Matthew 19:14; cf. also Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21). A little farther on in both Mark and Matthew we find the words which Thomas has added to the statement about the old man and the infant. 'Many who are first will be last' (Mark 10:31; Matthew 19:30; 20:16; and Luke 13:30). The Coptic version has omitted the words, found in the synoptic gospels and in the Greek Thomas, 'and the last, first.' These words are necessary in order to lead to the conclusion, 'And they will become a single one.' Those who have been last will become first and will be united in the unity which means transcending differences of age and of sex (cf., Sayings 10, 16, 24, 49, 50, 75, 103, 112). It means returning to the original unity of creation (if one can speak of creation in a Gnostic system)."

(The Secret Sayings of Jesus, p. 122-123)

F. F. Bruce writes:

"The point of this saying is at least superficially similar to that of the canonical sayings about children, such as 'whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it' (Mark 10.15). After the words 'many that are first will be last', the Greek text (P. Oxy. 654.4) adds 'and the last, first' (cf. Mark 10.31, etc.); this has probably been omitted by accident from our Coptic text. The 'single one' at the end of the saying is the personality that has finally transcended differentiation of age and sex - the latter is an ideal which finds recurring expression in the Gospel of Thomas (cf. Sayings 11, 16, 23, 49, 75, 106, 114). The underlying thought is that Adam, as first created, was androgynous, before being divided into male and female (Genesis 2.21-23); the pristine arrangement will be restored in the life to come. [This belief is ascribed to the Naassenes by Hippolytus, Refutation v. 6.5; 7.14 f.]"

(Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 114)

Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes:

"Evelyn White (p. 16) has a remark that is worth quoting here. 'The Saying - however we restore it - is a remarkable instance of that salient characteristic of the Oxyrhynchus collection as a whole - the mixture of elements at once parallel to and divergent from the Synoptics. For while the first part of the Saying has nothing exactly similar in the Synoptics, it nevertheless seems related to a clearly marked group of episodes in the Gospels. On the other hand the second part of the Saying corresponds exactly with the Synoptic version. . . . The Synoptics and the Saying are indeed so close that it is incredible that the two are independent, and the evidence . . . goes to show that it is the writer of the Sayings who is the borrower.'"

(Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, pp. 380-381)

Joseph A. Fitzmyer writes:

"The heavily Gnostic character of many of the sayings in the Coptic Gospel has already led to the conclusion that the latter is most likely the Manichean version of which Cyril speaks. The deliberate change of ending in the fourth saying, which is paralleled in the Manichean Kephalaia, is certainly evidence in this direction, as H.-Ch. Puech has already pointed out."

(Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, p. 418)

Funk and Hoover write:

"Its affinity with other sayings in Thomas relate the status of a child to salvation. In Thom 22:2, Jesus says, 'These nursing babies are like those who enter the domain.' The image of the baby or child appealed to the gnostic sensibility as an appropriate image for salvation. The quest for life is also a Thomean theme: 'Congratulations to the person who has toiled and has found life' (Thomas 58). The similarity of theme and language suggests that Thomas has revised the saying to his own perspectives."

(The Five Gospels, p. 473)

J. D. Crossan writes:

"Marcovich (60; see Schrage, 1964a:258) concludes that the Coptic translator or copyist has omitted 'and the last first' by simple oversight. This means that the two-stich aphorism was originally in Thomas, and in the Markan sequence and opening rather than in the Q formulation. It also means that the original chiastic two-stich aphorism was expanded by the addition of a third stich: 'and they will become one and the same' (Lambdin: 118) or, possibly better, 'and they shall become a single one' (Guillaumont, 1959:5; Wilson, 1973:511)."

(In Fragments, pp. 45-46)

J. D. Crossan writes:

"Klijn (271) has noted that 'three different words are used to render the word "single one"' in Thomas: (1) wa (11, 22, 106); (2) wa wot (4, 22, 23); (3) monachos (16, 49, 75). The meaning is the same, and that last (Greek) expression 'cannot have its usual meaning "monk" in this early text' (Till: 452 note 2). The meaning of this very important Thomistic theme has been summarized by Klijn (272) as follows: '(a) The word "single one" is equivalent to the elect and saved ones. (b) Originally man was a "single one," but he became "two." In order to be saved he has to become a "single one" again. This means that he has to return to his original state. (c) The original "single one" has become "two" by becoming male and female. This means that originally man was not male and female. As a result we may say that the Gospel of Thomas speaks about salvation as a return to the original state and that it rejects the division of man into male and female.' When Gos. Thom. 4 is compared with Gos. Thom. 22, one can conclude that 'becoming as a child, and entering the kingdom, and achieving a stte of asexuality are very nearly interchangeable terms' (Kee, 1963:313; see also Menard, 1975:83)."

(In Fragments, p. 46)

Stevan Davies writes:

"A person who has actualized the primordial light has become (is reborn as) an infant (saying 22) precisely seven days of age (saying 4), for he dwells in the seventh day of Genesis."


Funk and Hoover write:

"Becoming 'a single one' (v. 3) is a motif that appears elsewhere in Thomas. In Thom 22:5, male and female are turned into a single one; in Thomas 23, one and two become a single one; the two made into one become children of Adam in Thom 106:1. The last reference suggests the androgynous state before the creation of human beings, when male and female had not yet been differentiated. In gnostic theory, Adam and Eve were created by a lesser god, who bungled the job in making two sexes. These ideas are foreign to Jesus."

(The Five Gospels, p. 473)

Marvin Meyer writes:

"This theme (becoming one, the two becoming one) occurs in Gospel of Thomas sayings 4, 22, 23, 48, and 106, as well as elsewhere in ancient literature. It is often associated with the primordial union achieved in sexual intercourse (for the Hebrews, heterosexual intercourse; for the Greeks, homosexual or heterosexual intercourse) as the two joined together at the beginning become one again (compare Genesis 2:21-24; Plato, Symposium 192DE). By extension, this oneness can designate an integrated existence beyond all the divisive features of human life."

(The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 70)


Visitor Comments


There are some striking resemblances with the "Conversation with God" books by Neale Donald Walsche, especially about us becoming one.
- Joshua

To me, the most profound and important statement in Neale Walshe's books is "There is only One of us." We don't so much become one as we are already and always One and have forgotten.
- active-mystic

Why does a man full of life experience ask a new born babe who cannot even speak about the place of life? In this action, we see his humbleness, respect, and will of seeking life that is known through the Lord, who sees all of God's children as the same.
- laijon

Death as we perceive it as adults is the remembrance of the death of our innate selves when we found our parents were not the parents we expected them to be. Learn from the child and you will not taste death.
- Rodney

The infant knows life. But the infant does not know "place". The concept of place is a feature of the real world which the intellect of the infant has not yet created. Asking the infant about the place of life is as foolish and as wise as wondering "where" the life which you know and which is your birthright really "is" in "the real world". (Note: This saying is best and completely understood when within speaking distance of an infant.)
- Simon Magus

Once life is known, all are the same, of the same soul.
- Ardele

This passage means that the correlation between wisdom and knowledge about the truth of life does not depend on a person's age in years. Our chronological age is not concurrent with our soul's age. We are being told that if we are wise, we will find "what we are looking for" (whatever this thing is we all feel we are seeking) we will not find it in any one person of any one age. Some people live all their lives with dirty, greedy souls and never seem to get it. Some people were born knowing "it." You get into the club when you figure this out, there's no age limit, and some never make it. {Comparisons are better made to parallels of everyday life than to other texts.}
- Holly

No oneness with the divine can happen while we are continually self identifying and self determining...only when we surrender all that we are to the divine can we become one with that which is eternal...what human is more surrendered to what they are and what may come than a seven day old child that has no point of referance to for which self identification can be made, and to whom even basic sustenance must be provided in faith to the mother.
- Mustafa

The soul is eternal. Our life on Earth is but a mere speck of time. The old man, who has not enjoyed spiritual communion with God for such a long time, seeks communion through the baby who has only recently departed the bliss of the heavenly Father.
- Doubter

The aged man must realize that he is the babe - spiritually speaking. He must realize that he knows as much of the spiritual world as the babe knows of the physical world. This attitude of humility is one aspect of his salvation.
- bromikl

I believe that there may be an even deeper meaning here. Perhaps the term "single one" refers to the original Adam. Perhaps "single one" means exactly that, one individual unit. It could also be the reuniting of the spiritual enlightenment (Holy Ghost) that exists in all believer.
- Margaret

It is not a matter of who is first or last but of timing, of readiness or ripeness. The aged man in calendar years should seek that childlike element now encrusted by accretions if his quest is to succeed
- Thief37

For me this seems to have echoes of Eastern (perhaps Buddhist) ideas, particularly of the concept of the Bodhisattva. The old person has the realization that the child's experiences, however limited, are unique. By learning from the child the old person better prepares for the time in which 'he shall live; and there are many first who shall be last', that is, the time in which he will return to physical life to help along any souls traveling on a path toward oneness. Just a thought.
- Aspirant

The reason the man "aged in days" would ask the child about the "place of life" is that the child has just come from the source from which we all come, and to which we all return. "They will become a single one" when they realize the true unitive nature of our existence. We are One. The illusion of our separateness is due to our egocentric perpective. When you realize this, you will not taste death.
- James

The child has yet to learn the concepts of earthly life ... such as a denial of self in order to belong, respecting your elders as opposed to listening to your own heart; all the illusions our society demands we buy into in order to be safe, when in fact there is nothing to be safe from if you see. Hence, the child has not been brainwashed. Jesus said to be like the children. Children aren't afraid to say hello to strangers; we teach them this fear.
- daisy

In modern times, we issue birth certificates to memorialize that a child, understood to be its body, has come into existence on a specific date, at a specific place, has a specific earthly father, and has been given a proper name which differentiates it from all others. In the time of Jesus and in the Jewish culture, these tasks were the responsibility of the parents, and traditionally names were given on the eighth day. Jesus would have disagreed with birth certificates. He said, blessed are they that were before they came into being. He said that we should call no man "Father." He said our true "Father" was in Heaven. And he never referred to either himself or his "Father" by name. Naming is the first step in a very popular deception, taught by parents, which lead little ones to perceive that they are a separated self, defined by their body, and are independent of the eternal One. To see the wisdom of a child of seven days, you need to recognize the deception which begins on the eighth.
- nothing

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