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Paul and the Gospel of Thomas (Part V)

March 16, 2010

The second Paul-Thomas parallel I want to look at is Gos. Thom. 17 and 1 Cor 2:9:

Gos. Thom. 17

1 Cor 2:9

Jesus said, ‘I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, what has not arisen in the human heart.’ But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’

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The similarities between 1 Cor 2:9 and Gos. Thom. 17 are evident right away though questions about the sharing of tradition prove difficult to answer. To begin with, the proverb appears to draw upon elements of Isa 52:15, 64:3-4, and/or 65:16, though no part of the saying represents a direct quotation of any OT passage. This was no doubt an important proverb in the early church as different versions appear in 1 Cor 2:9, Gos. Thom. 17, 1 Clem 34:8, 2 Clem 11:7, Dial Sav 57, Acts Thom 36, Acts Pet 39, Protrepticus 10.94.4 (an exhortation of Clement of Alexandria to the Greeks), and the Turfan Fragment M 789. Similarities are also present in 1 John 1:1, though the context and situation addressed by the Johannine epistles may suggest its independence from the tradition shared by these other texts. The widespread appeal of this proverb makes tracing its transmission history a complex endeavor.

If we exclude 1 John 1:1, it is clear that Thomas and Paul represent the two earliest extant versions of this proverb. Therefore the first question to explore is, which version preceded the other? Scholars are split on this question. April DeConick includes Gos. Thom. 17 in her list of earliest Thomas sayings, arguing that it reflects the eschatological views of the earliest Thomasine Christians (see Recovering, 97, 113, 118, 129). Stephen Patterson, who also regards logion 17 as pre-Pauline, offers the following unqualified assertion about Paul:

[I]n 1 Corinthians 2 he uses the wisdom style of these opponents to compose his own ‘wisdom speech’ (2:6-16), only to correct their views with a few well-placed Pauline twists. Interestingly, in the midst of this speech Paul quotes a saying from the Gospel of Thomas. . . .The version of the saying quoted here by Paul is not paralleled word-for-word in Thomas, but reflects the sort of differences one would expect to have resulted from oral transmission (from “Paul and the Jesus Tradition,” Harvard Theological Review 84 [1991] 36-37).

Thinking along the lines of those who argue that the communities of John and Thomas were embroiled in a theological conflict, Plisch suggests that Thomas may have altered the saying in response to 1 John 1:1, which would mean that Thomas’s version is later than Paul’s. Gathercole argues that Gos. Thom. 17 has a number of secondary features, indicating it emerged later than Paul’s version. There seem to be as many opinions on this parallel as there are scholars who take a position.

Several features of Gos. Thom. 17 suggest that it is later than 1 Cor 2:9. First, Thomas includes a reference to “what no hand has touched.” This does not appear in the Pauline version and would seem to be an ‘improvement’ as it provides greater parallelism in the saying. Second, Thomas’s attribution of this saying to Jesus is surely to be regarded as secondary. Most later versions of the proverb preserve it as a saying of the Lord where Paul does not. All of this would suggest Paul’s version is earlier.

It appears that the Thomas logion emerged later than Paul’s version of the proverb, but demonstrating that it is earlier than Paul is not the same as demonstrating its dependence upon Paul. In our next post we will ask the question, “Is there any compelling evidence that Gos. Thom. 17 used 1 Cor 2:9?

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