Monday, January 1, 2024

Saying 13


Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Speculate about me and tell me whom I resemble?’

Simon Peter said to him, ‘You are like a just angel.’

Matthew said to him, ‘You are like a wise philosopher.’

Thomas said to him, ‘Master, my mouth cannot even attempt to say whom you are like.’

Jesus said, ‘I am not your master. When you drank, you became intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I had measured out.’ And he took him and withdrew and said three words to him.

When Thomas returned to his comrades, they asked him, ‘What did Jesus say to you?’

Thomas said to them, ‘If I tell you one of the words which he said to me, you would pick up stones and throw them at me. But fire would come out of the stones and burn you.’


Several of Jesus’ teachings in Thomas are constructed as dialogues: unnamed disciples ask Jesus a question, and he gives an answer. The majority of these reflect contentious points of debate from later decades of the Jesus Movement. In such cases, the dialogues do not reflect something which Jesus actually said. However, some sayings which belonged to the earliest version of the book were reshaped into dialogues only at a later time, so these must be determined on an individual basis.

The elaborate shape of this dialogue, including the identification of specific disciples by name, belongs to the latest stage in the book’s development. Saying 13 is clearly dependent on the equivalent passage from at least one of the New Testament gospels, even while departing from it radically. Thomas alone has fully received and understood the wisdom Jesus came to reveal. This is shown metaphorically as Thomas being intoxicated from a fountain Jesus has built. Saying 13 would not be a repudiation of whatever ideas were, at that time, associated with Simon Peter and Matthew, but an elevation of those ideas to a higher level: Jesus is not simply ‘a just angel’ or ‘a sage’, but something so much greater that Thomas risks being executed by his own comrades if he speaks it out loud. The detail that Thomas would be stoned to death suggests his offense could be considered blasphemy (Lev 24.16). This suggests ‘three words’ may have been a circumlocution for אהיה אשר אהיה (ehyeh asher ehyeh, ‘I will be what I will be’), the folk etymology provided for God’s personal name Yhwh (Exo 3.14). It was widely believed within Judaism in this time that speaking the divine name was forbidden, and even saying those three words might be tantamount to the same sin. In the earliest surviving Christian literature, when God raised the human Jesus from the dead, he also elevated him above all creation, rewarding him with ‘the name above all names’ (Php 2.9; Eph 1.21; Heb 1.4; cf. Matt 28.19). In other words, because he was appointed as God’s co-regent, Jesus was assigned to share the divine name. Saying 13 seems to fall within this or a similar tradition.

The choice to represent the other disciples with Simon Peter and Matthew may allude early claims that these two men were responsible for other accounts about Jesus. According to Papias (early second century CE), Simon told his companion John Mark things Jesus said and did, and John Mark wrote them without concern for order. Papias also said that Matthew, writing in Hebrew or Aramaic, compiled teachings from Jesus. (The descriptions from Papias do not closely match the New Testament gospels known as Mark and Matthew, though his claims likely contributed to those two books receiving their now-traditional titles.)



8.27–30 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist, and others, Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Anointed One.’ And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.


16.13–16 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the son of man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Anointed One, the son of the living God.’


9.18–20 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist, but others, Elijah, and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Anointed One of God.’

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