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Paul and the Gospel of Thomas (Part IV)

March 12, 2010

To be sure, the conclusion that Gos. Thom. 3 and Rom 10:5-8 are sharing material is not as self-evident as one might hope. For his part, Nagel seems confident though Gathercole is less optimistic, giving the probability of his conclusion only a ‘good sporting chance.’ Nevertheless, even though the final forms of Gos. Thom. 3 and Rom 10:5-8 are quite different, I find it difficult to get away from their similar changes to Deut 30, especially in light of the other existing traditions that do not agree. When that agreement is taken into account, I believe there are at least two points in support of the general conclusion that Thomas and Paul share material, and the specific conclusion that Gos. Thom.  3 is dependent upon Paul for the tradition.

First, Paul shows a remarkable knowledge of the OT throughout his letters, with the highest concentration of citations appearing in Romans. Paul cites directly from Deuteronomy at least 15 times in his letters and alludes to Deuteronomic themes throughout. In his important book, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, Richard Hays argues that Deut 32 provides Paul with the salvation-historical schema that is appropriated in both Galatians and Romans; this includes God’s election of a people, the subsequent rebellion of the people, God’s judgment, and finally God’s deliverance of his people. Significantly, Hays opens the book, and his entire discussion of ‘the puzzle of Pauline hermeneutics’ with a consideration of Rom 10:6-8. Paul’s use and reworking of Deuteronomic traditions have been a source of significant discussion within Pauline studies. Likewise, James Scott has argued that Deuteronomy is crucial to Paul’s thinking and theological formulations. His analysis of Deuteronomic traditions in Paul’s thought convincingly demonstrates that Paul appropriates the tradition in both his early (e.g., 1 Thess 2; Gal 3) and later correspondences (e.g., Rom 9-11).

Thomas’s awareness of the OT is unremarkable by comparison and it is not at all clear that Thomas shows independent knowledge of the Deuteronomic tradition. It is therefore difficult to imagine a scenario in which Thomas is responsible for the changes to Deut 30 that are found in both Rom 10:5-8 and Gos. Thom. 3. Given what we are able to know with some confidence about Paul and his relationship to Torah, it seems unlikely that the tradition originated with Thomas and then found its way to Paul.

A second and related point can be made by appealing to the principle of Occam’s razor. If we conclude that Paul and Thomas are sharing a common tradition, we must not only ask who is influencing whom, but also which scenario is more likely and which more problematic. Gathercole perceptively notes the problematic nature of positing Pauline dependence upon Gos. Thom. 3 when he writes:

[T]o suppose that GThom influences Paul here would mean something like the following: Deut 30 made an impression on the author of GThom who then thoroughly re-worked Deut 30, changing much of the language and adapting the existing contrast to one which contrasted heaven and the abyss, perhaps for cosmological reasons. Then Paul, coming across a sayings tradition which included something like GThom 3 adopted the saying, but then reintroduced some of the Deuteronomic elements which the sayings-tradition had dropped. The economy of supposing Pauline influence on GThom means that one need not resort to elements being dropped and then later reintroduced.

Constructing the argument in this way solves the greatest number of problems while raising the fewest questions, unlike the corollary, which would create a rather far-fetched and unlikely scenario. In light of these arguments, Thomas‘s use of Rom 10:5-8 seems to be the most likely conclusion, though I do want to be careful here to recognize that we cannot know for certain that Thomas is relying upon a written text of Romans. Thomas‘s use of the Pauline logion may have been mediated through oral tradition. It is thus my conclusion that Gos. Thom. 3 provides us with a first example of Paul’s influence upon the Gospel of Thomas.

In our next post we will explore the possible relationship between Gos. Thom. 17 and 1 Cor 2:9.

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