Gospel of Thomas Commentary
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 6 - True Fasting, Prayer, And Charity
Nag Hammadi Coptic Text
(6) His disciples asked him (and) said to him: Do you want us to fast? And how shall we pray (and) give alms? What diet should we observe? Jesus said: Do not lie, and what you abhor, do not do; for all things are manifest in the sight of heaven; for there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, and there is nothing covered which will remain without being uncovered.
(6) His disciples questioned him and said to him, "Do you want us to fast? And how shall we pray? Shall we give alms? And what kind of diet shall we follow?" Jesus said, "Do not lie, and do not do what you hate. For all things are disclosed before heaven. For there is nothing obscure that will not be shown forth, and there is nothing covered that will remain without being disclosed."
6 . His disciples asked and said to him: "Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray, how shall we give alms, what rules concerning eating shall we follow?" Jesus says: "Tell no lie, and whatever you hate, do not do: for all these things are manifest to the face of heaven; nothing hidden will fail to be revealed and nothing disguised will fail before long to be made public!"
Oxyrhynchus Greek Fragment
DORESSE - Oxyrhynchus
[His disciples] asked [and] say to him: "How shall we fa[st and how shall we pr]ay, and how [. . .], and what rules shall [we] follow [concerning eating"] Jesus says: [". . .] do not [. . .] of truth [. . .] hidden [. . ."]
ATTRIDGE - Oxyrhynchus
(6) [His disciples] questioned him [and said], "How [shall we] fast? [How shall we pray]? How [shall we give alms]? What [diet] shall [we] observe?" Jesus said, "[Do not tell lies, and] do not do what you [hate, for all things are plain in the sight] of truth. [For nothing] hidden [will not become manifest]."
[His disciples] ask him [and] say, "How [shall we] fast? [How shall] we [pray]? How [shall we give alms]? What [diet] shall [we] observe?" Jesus says, "[Do not lie, and] do not do [what] you [hate, because all things are apparent before] truth. [For there is nothing] hidden [that will not be manifest].
Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will bring sin upon yourselves."
Jesus says, "If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom of God. And if you do not keep the sabbath a sabbath, you will not see the Father."
"If you do not fast from the world, you will not find the kingdom. If you do not keep the sabbath a sabbath, you will not see the Father."
They said to Jesus, "Come, let us pray today, and let us fast." Jesus said, "What sin have I committed, or how have I been undone? Rather, when the bridegroom leaves the wedding chamber, then let people fast and pray."
"[For there is nothing] hidden that [will] not [become] manifest, and (nothing) buried that [will not be raised]."
"For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed."
"Do to no one what you yourself dislike. Do not drink wine till you become drunk, nor let drunkenness accompany you on your way."
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.
In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.
And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day. Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in His Gospel, thus pray ye.
And pray for your enemies. For he who is not against you is for you. He who today is far off - tomorrow will be near to you.
There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways. The way of life is this.
Funk and Hoover write:
"The answers Jesus is represented as giving in 6:2-6 appear to be unrelated to the questions about fasting, praying, and giving posed by the disciples in v. 1. Jesus does answer these three questions directly in 14:1-3. The discrepancy between Thom 6:1 and 2-6 has led some scholars to speculate that the texts of Thomas 6 and 14 have somehow been confused."
(The Five Gospels, p. 476)
Fitzmyer reconstructs the lines appended to saying six in the Greek fragment as follows:
"[Ha]ppy is [he who does not do these things. For all] will be mani[fest before the Father who] is [in heaven.]"
"Is this part of the same saying? If so, then we have a different ending in the Greek that is not found in the Coptic. J. Doresse (Thomas, p. 91) treats this as part of a distinct saying. He has in his favour the fact that makarios is preserved in the Coptic of the following saying. But it would then seem that we must either shorten our restoration of l. 39 and the beginning of l. 40 or suppose that the usual introduciton, 'Jesus says', has been omitted. Neither seems possible. Moreover, the letters that remain on the following lines do not seem to agree with any possible reconstruction of the Greek of the following Coptic saying. For an attempt to reconstruct it as a separate saying, see M. Marcovich, JTS 20 (1969) 66-7."
(Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, p. 387)
Other scholars consider this part of P. Oxy. 654 simply to represent the saying concerning the lion who is fortunate to be eaten by man.
Gerd Ludemann writes:
"The disciples' question is about fasting, prayer, almsgiving and the food laws. The first three also appear in the regulations about piety in Matt. 6.1-18 (cf. Tobit 12.8) and are discussed once again later (Thomas 14; cf. 104). In the present verse the question about food completes the sphere of the Jewish law."
(Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 593)
Jean Doresse writes:
"'nothing hidden will fail to be revealed' no doubt refers to hidden virtues such as those mentioned by Jesus: they are preferable to ostentatious practices of piety, and will one day be made public."
(The Secret Books of the Egyptian Gnostics, p. 371)
Jack Finegan writes:
"The reply of Jesus in Line 19, 'and what you hate, do not do,' is evidently derived from Tob 4:15, 'And what you hate, do not do to any one,' with omission of the words, 'to any one,' which reduces the saying from a form of the 'Golden Rule' to a self-centered saying."
(Hidden Records of the Life of Jesus, p. 247)
F. F. Bruce writes:
"In this and other sayings (cf. Sayings 14, 27, 104) it is insisted that true fasting is abstinence from evil words and actions, not from indifferent things like food. The negative form of the golden rule, 'Do not [to others] what is hateful to yourselves', appears repeatedly in early Jewish ethics, e.g. Tobit 4.15 ('What you hate, do not to any one') and Hillel's words in TB Shabbath 31a ('What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow; this is the whole law; everything else is commentary')."
(Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 115)
J. D. Crossan writes:
"This somewhat truncated version of the rule's negative formulation ['do not do what you hate', compared to Mt 7:12, Lk 6:31, Did 1:2b] has the following context. 'His disciples questioned Him and said to Him, "Do you want us to fast? How shall we pray? Shall we give alms? What diet shall we observe?" Jesus said, "Do not tell lies, and do not do what you hate, for all things are plain in the sight of Heaven. For nothing hidden will not become manifest, and nothing covered will remain without being uncovered.'"
(In Fragments, p. 52)
J. D. Crossan writes:
"The text is found not only in the Coptic translation of Thomas, but also among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri fragments of the Greek Thomas in Oxy P 654. The badly mutilated Greek text has been restored from the Coptic version as follows: [ha mis]eite me poiet[e] or '[what] you [ha]te do not do' (Hofius: 41; see also Fitzmyer, 1974:385; Marcovich: 65). The Coptic version is a close translation of that sequence: 'that which you hate, do not do' (with Wilson, 1973:511; rather than Guillaumont, 1959:5; or Lambdin: 118). Thus the sequence here is as in Tob. 4:15, ho miseis, medeni poieses, although the former is plural 'you' while this latter is singular 'you.' Those differences are dictated primarily by context. It is, of course, quite unlikely that Thomas is in any way quoting directly from Tobit (Menard, 1975:87). But his negative version says: What you hate (done to you) do not do (to others)."
(In Fragments, pp. 52-53)
Questions about fasting relate to the body; Jesus points the way to the truth that those who worship God must do so in truth and in spirit.
The specific questions were ignored as irrelevant, not the important thing to know. The thing to realize is that you are engaged in a continuing dialogue with God (and never not in the presence of God) in which every act of your life is in effect a prayer to God. In return, God is continually speaking to you, revealing all that you really need to know. Learn to see and hear this.
From these words, we can see that the disciples are asking for methods, just as the Pharisees of that time who follow rules only for the sake of the rules, no heart, no love. Action that does not follow one's true heart is lying.
I like that Jesus is stating things in a much more simple manner than many would like to believe he is here. The questions asked of him are very specific in nature, not unlike many of the same specific things people pray for or about. Saying 6 helps to remind the world that such things are constant and never ending. Praying for example does not end just because you say amen. Our life is a constant prayer, or a communication with God if you will. Meaning that, just because we aren't openly speaking with him, nothing about us is out of his realm. In a way I'd like to think that part of what Jesus has said here is that the specific things in life that we no doubt "worry" ourselves with, need not be so specific and complexing at all. The simple truth of it all is that everything eventually ends up where it started...the heaven that is in you and all around you.
If one follows a path dictated by others, you will be lying and doing what you hate. The "divine" is aware of you anyway.
Again we being told to do whatever our hearts tell us is right. Evil and sin come from not listening to or rebelling against that little voice of conscience that is our gift. Jesus was telling them, Hey do what you feel is right--trust yourself that you are doing good, and you will not be surprised that it's also what God wants for you. There are no rituals that can make you a good person, only good intended actions and thoughts.
Whether this was transposed with 14 or not, the meaning is the same either way. Old rules and "laws" are meaningingless. As long as you are true to yourself and God, you will not do evil. If this verse is accurate, the way he utterly ignores their specific questions suggests a very broad rejection of ALL the meticulous old laws.
It won't do you any good to lie, Heaven promises to expose you...So tell the truth and take your licks, better here than there. And you know all those things you say you hate, i.e. greed, injustice, liars, cheats and thieves, well you better make sure you are not any of those things because Heaven promises you judgment "by your own words" i.e. I've found to my regret that I'm guilty of gossiping, complaining and murmuring even though I am constantly stating how much I 'hate' these things. Heaven is just and by what measure I judged will I be judged. And all the praying and fasting and giving in the world won't prevent judgment.
What of fasting? Prayer? Tzidakah? Diet? How shall we know what is right? Jesus said, "If you can perceive all of these things, the Universe and the Universal can perceive more and deeper than any can know, so don't lie, don't do what you know doesn't seem right. All that is hidden will be revealed before the Universe and the truth therein, and you will have to answer for it, like it or not."
This verse seems to parallel the story where Jesus tells his disciples that all food is good to eat--the message is that evil comes from within, as does good.
In this statement, Christ tells us the walk, and to get walking. Be careful that devotional activities don't hinder your work in the real world.