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and James and Thomas: three approaches to Christianity


Three groups claimed to represent Jesus' message:

  1. the Gentile church, led by Paul, and
  2. the Jewish church, led by James.
  3. the "learned" followers (who used the gospel of Thomas),

Let us look at each in turn.


These are three divisions in any religious group:

  1. the conservatives (the most likely to make supernatural claims), and
  2. the liberals (who see religion as just a way to perform good works).
  3. the scholars (who try to explain everything)

Since the third century (and they would argue, since the beginning) Christianity has been dominated by the supernatural group. They rely on the writings of Paul, so Paul will dominate this discussion.

The importance of Paul

The church we see today depends on Paul. Paul is routinely quoted to explain what the gospel means. It could be argued that he saved the Christian church: he provided a theology that was easy for non-Jews to understand and accept.

Without Paul's emphasis on the Gentiles, the Christian church, dependent on its Jewish centre, would have died after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the scattering of the Jews after the failed Bar Kokhba rebellion in the 130s. Paul's role is so great that some scholars consider him to be the effective creator of Christianity, with Jesus simply his inspiration.

How Paul saved the church

Jesus was too far ahead of his time. He taught abstract principles in a day when most people could not even read. He taught the foundations of economics, seventeen hundred years before economics was ever recognised as a subject. To most people Jesus was just a miracle worker. Nobody understood the logic (the God) behind his actions.

So the best anybody could strive for was to preserve Jesus' words for future generations. James failed. The learned Christians failed. But Paul succeeded. Thanks to Paul the four gospels became the most copied books in history. From time to time some reader catches a glimpse of its power, and Paul deserves our gratitude.

Paul's message

The key to Paul's message, and the key to understanding God, is that God is perfect and man is not. Paul made this abundantly clear. But this creates a paradox: all men are imperfect, and Paul is a man, so how can we trust his words? Particularly as his reasoning, by falling back to the supernatural, shows he does not understand the logical causes of what he claims?

Paul provided a solution here as well: although man (such as Paul) is imperfect, through God we can sometimes do good things. While it is true that man will tend to confuse and corrupt all ideas, one idea is simple enough and strong enough that we can probably rely on it the idea of Jesus.

So paradoxically, if we believe Paul then we will immediately close his letters and open up the gospel instead (e.g. Mark). If we continue to read Paul then we do not understand Paul.

Paul's writing is scripture

Even though Paul's message is "do not listen to my message", it is still scripture.

Jesus referred to sacred writing as "the law and the prophets" and to his own teaching as "the gospel." "The law" is the law of Moses: the rules for a successful nation. "The prophets" are the writings of those outsiders who from time to time would call the people to repent, to go back to keeping the law. "The gospel" is "the good news", the teachings of Jesus. These were all separate categories. In Jesus, day and for a century afterwards they were separate books.

In addition to these there were other writings that were considered interesting or useful. The Pharisees had various commentaries (this is what set them apart from the Sadducees, who insisted that only the law and the prophets count). Different groups wrote their own manuals or prophecies: for example the Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls community) had various manuals that they would study. Together the most interesting guides and commentaries are just called "the writings". In Latin, the word "writing" is "scripture", hence the word "script" for a play, "scribe" for a writer, "scriptorium" for the room where the Essenes would copy their texts, and so on.

Together all these books, the law, the prophets, the gospels, and the scripture, became "the books." In ancient times books were copied by hand and most people were very poor and illiterate, so the only books most people had were the guides for the local community. "The books" in Latin is "the bible", hence the word library, bibliophile, etc.

How the Bible came to be

The word "Bible" did not originally mean what it means today, a special small collection bound together,different from your regular library. "The books" were your entire library, the only ones the community thought were important enough to laboriously copy down through the generations. Obviously the wealthy and middle class scholars would have more books, but they were unusual. For practical purposes "the books" means "the books that matter", the shared books, the ones worth spending scares resources to copy and preserve.

The reason Paul matters so much is simply because he wrote many letters to distant churches, and so those churches copied them. Therefore they became local scripture. Their content made them useful to the bishops of other cities, hence they became scripture for the whole church. There is nothing magical about the process of becoming scripture.

How a Bible becomes sacred

Naturally, any books that are the basis for your laws become very important. So these books are treated with special reverence and must be preserved, letter perfect. Hence the idea of "sacred" scriptures. "Sacred" comes from the Latin "sacrare" from the prehistoric word root "sak" meaning "that which must not be altered". This was for purely political-economic reasons. If thousands of life and death contracts are made based on a written text then you had better not alter that text afterwards!

Sola scriptura

The invention of printing made the Bible seem even more sacred, in the sense that it was now very easy to challenge it. Historians could point out errors (such as errors in the church), and ordinary people could choose other books, or even re translate the Bible with different emphasis. The protestants, who questioned the historical church, were left with no foundation, so they insisted that the Bible had to be considered perfect: "sola scripture" or "scripture alone".

The progress of science of course left even this to be questioned: how can the scripture be unchangeable when its origins were so human? Whenever we look closely we see changes, disagreements, and stories presented as truth. Eventually we are forced to come back to the original foundation, the only sure foundation there can ever be: logic. Eventually mankind returns to the logos, after exhausting every other possibility

Returning to Paul, we can conclude that yes,his words are scripture, and no, this does not mean they are perfect. But they are useful, and that is the most we can ask for any written text.

If not Paul, who?

It is very tempting to see Paul as the villain. It is easy to find evidence that his words are at best irrelevant to the gospel, and at worst he was the great enemy of the church. But so what? All people sin. The kingdom of God is the kingdom of God, not a man. A good kingdom, a good economic system, works despite imperfect people. The kingdom of God (an economic kingdom) did not appear in the first century, and we cannot blame Paul. Paul was not in charge of the church: that was James.

If James had understood the economic message then Paul would not have mattered. So we cannot blame Paul. Indeed, without Paul we would have nothing at all.

But what if James had been as smart as his brother? Let us imagine what might have been:

Paul's theology

Paul was originally known as Saul. He fought against the church. Then he saw Jesus, This shocked and amazed Saul, because he thought Jesus was dead. The visit changed Saul's life. From this Saul concluded that:

  1. Christianity is supernatural.
  2. Bodily resurrection is real.
    He was taught this by his Pharisee upbringing, but most Jews did not believe in it. (See part two of this book.)
  3. A person like himself can be chosen despite doing everything wrong.

This became the basis of his theology:

  1. The supernatural.
  2. Bodily resurrection.
  3. Grace, not works.

For the remainder of the notes on Paul I draw heavily on the research of many others and am indebted to them.

Paul and mystery religions

Paul refers to his religion as the revelation of a hidden mystery:

"How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Ephesians 3:3-6)

Paul's "mystery" fits neatly alongside the popular "mystery religions" of the day, especially the worship of Mithras (in Greece and Rome) and of Osiris (in Egypt). Similarities with Mithraism were so great that both Tertullian and Justin Martyr accused Mithraism of being a demonic copy (even though Mithraism came first). There are of course, differences: chiefly the emphasis on resurrection, which has more in common with the cult of Osiris. Perhaps the central theme of Paul's message was that Jesus died for our sins:

"In the ancient world there was a very widespread belief in the sufferings and deaths of gods as being beneficial to man. Adonis, Attis, Dionysos, Herakles, Mithra, Osiris, and other deities, were all saviour-gods whose deaths were regarded as sacrifices made on behalf of mankind; and it is to be noticed that in almost every case there is clear evidence that the god sacrificed himself to himself." (Arthur Weigall, in "The Paganism in Our Christianity")

As Bart Ehrman notes, we cannot say for certain that Paul's Christianity was based on mystery religions, because by definition those religions kept their teachings secret. However, a detailed copy is not needed: Paul's teaching is really very simple: a hierarchy of power, learning by supernatural means, bodily resurrection, and atonement. These are all common in many ancient religions, but were not taught in the gospels according to Mark or Thomas, or mentioned by James.

Paul's journeys

Saul was converted sometime in AD 33 or soon after. He then spent many years thinking about what it all meant. Then in AD 46 a famine hit the land of Israel, and the church needed help from the members scattered abroad. Saul volunteered to make the journey, and thus became friends with the twelve apostles:

"And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:27-30)

But instead of just gathering money, he changed his name to Paul and began calling himself an apostle. When he visited the churches he told them that Christianity should be a gentile religion based on supernatural resurrection and grace, not a Jewish religion based on good works.

For more details, see part nine of this book for a commentary on the book of Acts, which is effectively a history of Paul's influence on the church.

Did Paul establish new churches?

Paul made a lot of noise in the early church, and his ideas were later treated as gospel. But he had less influence at the time. he was certainly not the great church builder we sometimes imagine.

Paul did not begin his missionary journeys until around AD47-48 (to Selucea and Cyprus, Acts 13:4). By this point the church was at least 14 years old and had many thousands of members.

The original "apostle to the gentiles" was not Paul but Peter (see Acts 10 and Acts 15:7). Peter or his (companions) founded the main gentile churches in Antioch and Rome. When Paul visited Antioch and Rome there were already flourishing churches there (Acts 11:19-30, Galatians 2:1, Acts 28:14-15).

Did Paul convert many people?

The early chapters of Acts show how the apostles converted many thousands to the church. In Acts 2:41 Peter's preaching leads to three thousand converts. In Acts 4:4 another five thousand believed. When Paul came to Jerusalem in Acts 20, he found that James and the apostles had converted tens of thousands:

"And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest , brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe ; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs. What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together : for they will hear that thou art come." (Acts 20-22)

The word translated "thousands" is "murias" meaning "ten thousand" or "an innumerable host". Note that Paul did not convert these: they were converted to the teaching of James, which was based on the law of Moses. James was concerned that Paul was going to existing converts and teaching them something different.

Paul: the numbers

When re read of Peter and James we get the word "thousands" and actual numbers. But when it comes to Paul we only have vague words like he converted "some" or on two occasions "many". But what does "many" mean? The only time we have a definite number for Paul, it is twelve (Acts 19:7), and they were already followers of John the Baptist: Paul simply convinced them that he had an extra supernatural ritual that they needed.

Paul's' recorded successes are as follows:

  1. In Derbe \93he made many disciples\94 (Acts 14:21)
  2. In Philippi, Lydia and the Jailer and his family joined him (Acts 16:14, 33)
  3. In Thessalonica, \93Some of them believed\94 (Acts 17:4)
  4. In Athens, none are recorded as joining him.
  5. In Corinth, \93many Corinthians\94 believed (Acts 18:8)
  6. In Ephesus: Paul was \93persuading [some] concerning the kingdom of God\94 (Acts 19:8)
  7. Caesarea none.
  8. In Rome: \93some\94 were persuaded (Acts 28:24)

If the number twelve is any guide, the total number of Paul's converts might be less than one hundred. Compare this to the tens of thousands from the twelve apostles.

Paul's conflicts with other disciples

The book of Acts, and Paul's letters, show that Paul often disagreed with other Christians. This does not prove that Paul was their enemy: friends often disagree. But it is also consistent with a major Jewish-Gentile split in the church.

Paul disagreed with Mark and Barnabas:

"And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus" (Acts 15:39)

Paul disagreed with Peter:

"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed" (Galatians 2:11)

Paul disagreed with other Christian preachers. He would even disagree with an angel from heaven!

"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)

Paul called the Galatians fools for once accepting his supernatural views and then going back to what he calls "works":

"O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:1-3)

At the start of Galatians he makes a point that he does not get his authority from men - which implies he does not get it from the twelve apostles:

"Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;" (Galatians 1:1) "For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 9:11-12)

Paul refers to other Christian preachers who have a different view of Christ.

"For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him. For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles." (2 Corinthians 11:4-5)

Who are the other preachers he condemns? The theme of all his books is grace rather than works. Who is it who sends out missionaries preaching good works? Note the reference at the end, saying he is just as good as the twelve apostles. The ones who send out preachers are James and the other apostles based in Jerusalem. Later in the same chapter he seems to be talking about them again:

"Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft." (2 Corinthians 11:22-23)

Paul's uncompromising attitude opposed the holy spirit and created conflict with the Jews. In Acts 21:4 for example:

"And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:4)

Note that this was a command of the holy spirit. In Acts 21:10-11, Agabus gave a message to corroborate and explain why Paul should not go. But they went anyway, opposing the holy spirit. Paul's companion Trophimus then violated the temple, by going where a gentile was not supposed to. (See Acts 21:28-29, 24:6, 13, 18; 25:7-8.) Paul denied he did anything wrong, and said he was elsewhere at the time. But his teaching that the old law was dead must surely have influenced his friend.

This uncompromising attitude is reflected throughout the gentile church. While James in Jerusalem was trying to make friends, the rest of the church was making enemies among the Jews and with Rome.

Two fundamentally different churches

Paul was accepted by the apostles (e.g. in Acts 11) because the church at that time was not hierarchical. James did not excommunicate people: truth was known by its fruits, not because some authority said so. If people cannot tell good fruits from bad, they cannot blame Paul or anyone else. Perhaps the fruits are only clear in hindsight, looking back past the Dark Ages, but even at the beginning it should have been clear that we had fundamentally opposite positions:

  1. Logic versus the supernatural.
    Jesus was based on logic, not the supernatural (See part six of this book). Paul was entirely based on the supernatural: bodily resurrection plus undeserved grace.
  2. No hierarchies versus hierarchy.
    Jesus called himself the common man and taught his disciples to lead by washing feet, not by authority "as the gentiles do." But Paul saw every act of service as a sign of authority:
    "And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third, teachers" (1 Corinthians 12:28)
    "And he gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11)
    "Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity." (1 Timothy 2:7)
    "For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher" (2 Timothy 1:11)
  3. A real kingdom versus a supernatural one
    Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God. The law of Moses was about a real Jewish kingdom, based on land rent rather than tax. But to Paul the kingdom was a spiritual thing for scattered gentiles with no intention of diplomacy with Rome or moving to Israel.
  4. Love enemies versus hate enemies
    Perhaps the biggest difference is love versus hate. Jesus resisted all attempts to make him condemn Rome. Even when he condemned Pharisaic hypocrisy he was careful to say "do as they say, not as they do". he crowned his life by letting his enemies crucify him. But for Paul, the imagery was all military conflict. He uses the phrase "gospel of peace" yet uses imagery that says the opposite. As is this passage from his letter to the Ephesians :
    "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:11-17)
    The whole concept of opposition is satanic: the word "satan" means opposition. Paul's supporters can argue this is merely imagery about struggle, but Jesus offered rest, saying "my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Compare Paul's military imagery to Jesus' parables (that Paul never quotes): stories of farming, trade, and other peaceful pursuits. Jesus wore no armour: he said to turn the other cheek. Jesus hated swords: he who lives with the sword will die with the sword. (For the oft-misquoted passage in Luke, see the commentary to Mark 6:7.)  

The case against Paul: in other New Testament books

Some critics read all the New Testament books written after Paul as warnings against Paul. The most obvious example is James chapter 2, but almost every post-Paul book has parts that can be seen as hidden warnings. Friends of Paul naturally say these verses are mere coincidence, and do not mean that at all.

For example, in the gospel of Matthew:

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. [...] Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:15-16,20-21)

Critics call Paul a false prophet, who teaches being saved by calling on God rather than by good works. Note that he is of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5) and is therefore a wolf (Genesis 49:27) but calls himself one of Jesus' sheep.

Another example is in Revelation chapter 2 concerning Ephesus.

About Ephesus

To see why Revelation is so damning against Paul we need to see the importance of Ephesus. Ephesus was the third largest city in Asia (modern day Turkey) after Sardis and Alexandria Troas. Paul never visited Sardis or Troas (as far as we know) but spent some time in Ephesus. So when Paul says "Asia" he means mainly Ephesus. Paul was from Tarsus, another city in Asia. So the Ephesians were the Gentiles who knew Paul best. This is what happened when he preached there:

"And he [Paul] went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus." (Acts 19:8-9)

Ephesus rejects Paul

Paul performed some miracles in Asia to gain converts (see the rest of Acts 19, and note the parallels with Simon in part 9 of this book). However, his success was short lived. Towards the end he wrote:

"all those in Asia have turned away from me." (2 Timothy 1:15)

This was written during the persecution of Nero, the same time that the book of Revelation was written (see commentary on Mark 12:14 for the date of Revelation). In Revelation we the following praise for the believers at Ephesus:

"Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; [...] thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Revelation 2:1-2)

Paul is of course the only person in the New Testament who claimed to be an apostle without being one of The Twelve.

The case for Paul being a friend of the apostles

The book of Acts shows that Paul became friends with Peter, but as noted above, earlier documents say Paul rebuked Peter to his face. It is possible of course that Paul did manage to befriend Peter. But this does not mean Peter was always right. See part nine of this book for details

Acts then shows that Paul was sent out on a mission. But look more closely at those missions:

  1. The first time (Acts 11) was just to collect money for the poor. But Saul took the opportunity to change his name to Paul, call himself an apostle, and tell people they did not need to keep the law of Moses (see Paul's letters).
  2. The second time (Acts 15) was to clear up the mess created by the first mission. It appears that people went out "from us" - that is, from the apostles in Jerusalem, to try to fix the mess, but this just caused confusion. So in Acts 15 the church hammered out a compromise: circumcision is not essential to the gospel, so gentile converts do not need it:
    "Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth." (Acts 15:22-27)
    Note that they sent Barnabas with Saul (who now called himself Paul). Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew (Acts 4:36) who could presumably be relied on to get the right balance between between being Jew and Gentile. Barnabas recommended taking Mark, who as we saw in part six, Mark was a thoughtful skeptic, not likely to be persuaded by supernatural claims. But Paul refused to work with them:
    "And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;" (Acts 15:37-39)
    Paul the carried on as before, preaching against the law of Moses and setting himself up as an apostle with supernatural powers. 
    So it is true that the apostles sent out Paul, but he did not follow their instructions.
  3. Jesus briefly appeared to Paul
    Paul was probably telling the truth as he understood it. Passionate and persuasive people usually believe what they say. It makes sense that Jesus would visit Saul (on the road to Damascus) because Jesus had just faked his death, and could now see Saul destroying everything he worked for. The power of Saul's change of heart, and his later focus on the supernatural and on resurrection, indicates that he really did see somebody he thought had risen from the dead. But Jesus simply told him to stop persecuting his Jewish followers. This is not the same as saying "you are my new mouthpiece." Quite the opposite! If Jesus had said "go and preach" why did Saul then wait up to fourteen years before setting out? It seems that over the next few years an idea grew in Saul's mind: "I had a supernatural visitation! I must be special!"
  4. Jesus told Ananias to help Paul
    After seeing Jesus, Paul was sent to Ananias who told him Jesus wanted Paul to preach to the gentiles. But this may have just been a way to get rid of him. If so then it back-fired as Paul, a Roman citizen, saw it much like a Roman general being sent to the borders. A Caesar might send a troublesome general to a distant outpost to get rid of him, but the ambitious general can then conquer new territories and return in glory.
  5. Sacrifice and hardship:
    Paul sacrificed a great deal to preach. But so did Saul when he was persecuting the church: nobody doubts that Paul was a fanatic.
  6. Paul talks about Jesus?
    On the surface, Paul talks about Jesus all the time. Yet he does not quote the parables, or much of Jesus taught or did, except for the crucifixion. In contrast, Paul refers to himself three times as often (per 1000 words) than any other New Testament writer. Paul sets himself up as the gatekeeper: to truly understand Jesus, people must listen to Paul. As if the gospel (in Mark) is not enough. This is classic cult leader behaviour.

The case against Paul: his teachings

  1. The supernatural
    The main argument against Paul is that he embraces the supernatural. This book rejects the supernatural: if there was any evidence for it that would be part of the "natural" world by definition.

    In contrast, Jesus taught by logic. Jesus taught by simple sayings and parables, usually about economic behaviour. Mark reported his acts, and it is clear they are not supernatural. But Paul added the theology of supernatural redemption.

  2. The kingdom
    Jesus was only sent to Israel. Paul went to the gentiles. Jesus came to establish a literal kingdom of Israel. This is almost impossible if converts are not Israelites.

  3. Good works
    Jesus and the twelve apostles taught the need for good works (see Matthew 5:19, John 15:10, James 1:22-25 and 2:24, etc. ) but Paul preached they were not needed.

  4. Being Jewish
    Jesus was a good Jew. Paul created a whole new theology. He openly admitted that it was new, saying it was a mystery that was hidden until the church focused on the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:3-6). It is possible that Jesus approved the end to circumcision. An end to circumcision was not in itself a fatal blow to the economic kingdom. But Paul made the change into a big thing: His whole theology was about the difference between the old way ("works") and his new way ("grace").
  6. Adding scripture
    Jesus already had his gospel, repeated in four different versions. Yet Paul saw the need to add the same number of pages again. This is a bigger change than most people think. Jesus' gospel is simple: it s contained within the short book of Mark. If we just had Mark and the Old Testament it would be obvious that Jesus was simply clarifying the Old Testament. But by adding twenty seven new books, we have the impression of a whole new set of books, a whole new teaching.

  7. Various contradictions
    Critics of Paul list numerous examples of what they see as contradictions between Paul and the twelve apostles. However, these can be interpreted in different ways.

  8. A Pharisee
    Paul said he was doctrinally a Pharisee (see Acts 23:6): but the Pharisees were the group Jesus had most trouble with. Jesus never condemned their teachings, only their hypocrisy: they said one thing and did another. Paul could be accused of this: he called himself a Pharisee yet preached that converts did not need to keep the whole law of Moses.

The case against Paul: his authority

  1. An apostle?
    More than twenty times, Paul called himself an apostle. Nobody else did, except his travelling companion Luke. Paul did not fit the definition of an apostle as stated by Peter (in Acts 1:21-22 and Acts 10:39-42): an apostle was somebody who had been with Jesus for his whole ministry.

  2. One of the twelve?
    Paul called himself an apostle, yet was not one of the twelve. Luke wrote Acts, and twice referred to Paul as an apostle, but he could not produce any quote from the twelve to that effect. The twelve seem to treat Paul as what he was: en effective but controversial missionary.

  3. A new Balaam?
    Jewish prophecy is based on following patterns (see part 2 of this book). It is disturbing then that obvious parallel for Paul is Balaam (see the last chapters of Numbers). Both were the most influential enemies of the church in their day. Paul claimed to be converted by a vision on the road to Damascus, whereas Balaam claimed to be converted by a vision on the road to Moab. Both then appeared to support the church. But both ended up getting what they originally wanted: Balaam was instrumental in the disastrous plague that killed thousands of Israelites at Peor (see Numbers 31:8, 16), and Paul managed to divert the followers of Jesus away from Judaism, away from controlling the literal kingdom of Israel. Critics might compare Paul's enticing "just believe and be saved" offer as disastrous as the sexual enticements devised by Balaam.

Some have argued that Saul never changed. His original goal, as a good Jew, was to prevent Jesus from polluting Judaism. He succeeded: by splitting Jesus' followers into a separate gentile church. Without Paul, all Jews could accept Jesus as a true prophet. With Paul, the Jews remain unchanged.

However, it is unlikely that a fraud would maintain such a facade and suffer for so long. It is more likely that he was sincere.

For more about Paul, see part nine of this book, particularly the section on "Simon Magus".



Who was James?

James was Jesus' brother, or possibly cousin. According to the gospel of Thomas, Jesus told people that after he (Jesus) left they were to follow James.

James is called "James the Just" (to distinguish him from others called James) because of the respect he was held in even by his enemies. Hegesippus (quoted by Jerome) says that James was unusually holy, and could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple, a place usually reserved for the High Priest.

James was head of the church

According to Acts, Paul ran the church in Jerusalem. Given that the church that Jesus led was Jewish, this means that James ran the whole church. This agrees with Jesus' statement in Thomas that the people should follow his bother James.

James' church was not hierarchical. "Elders" were just the old people. "Apostles" (Greek for "sent out") were just the people he sent out. If their words carried weight it was simply because of their experience and the force of their argument. James followed Jesus' teaching to lead by example, not by authority. They both followed the law of Moses, which was against hierarchies. Hence the High Priest (for example) does not order the nation around, he simply perform his duties in the temple.

"But wait, didn't Peter run the church?"

Peter was chosen for his stubbornness, like a rock (hence Jesus gave him the name "Petros"). In the first months after the crucifixion Peter's forceful personality was needed to keep the church together. In the first chapters of Acts it was Peter who fearlessly stood in the temple and preached despite death threats. His courage inspired the others to not give up.

But as the book of Acts continued it became plain that James ran the church headquarters in Jerusalem, and he sent Peter and the other apostles out on missions. When Paul arrived in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised, he went to James, and it is James who insisted that Paul ritually cleanse himself at Herod's Temple, to prove his faith and deny rumours of teaching rebellion against the Torah (Acts 21:18).

So James led the church. The words of James are therefore the best guide to the church until his death.

The letter of James: authorship

Bart Ehrman and many other scholars suggest that many texts of the New testament texts are forgeries, not by the people they claim. This may be true in a limited technical sense, but it misunderstands the nature of identity (see part two of this book). A person's identity is his ideas, not his body.

The evidence points to a very early date (see below). But even if it did not, from what we know from the gospel of Mark, the book of James has the spirit of Jesus. So calling it the book of James is correct.

Logic and authenticity

Calling James a forgery misunderstands why these books matter. The value of an idea does not depend on who said it, it only depends on its truth: is it logically consistent? Does it help in the real world?

The whole point of logic is that it can be tested without worrying about its origin. It is why the truth (logic) sets us free: we are not at the mercy of the next unexpected discovery.

Even if the book did not represent James, it is consistent with logic and does not rely on the supernatural, This makes it one of only a tiny handful of books we can rely on to show logically how the gospel might work. (The other non-supernatural books are Mark and Thomas, and probably John).

James versus Paul

Most readers notice the contrast between James and Paul. This is most obvious in James 2:14-19. But James does not name Paul: he follows Jesus, and does not judge any person. In Acts, James shows himself willing to work with Paul as a friend. James only judges principles.

Every verse of the book of James can be seen as a response to Paul and a reaffirmation of the gospel as taught by Jesus. In the "Recognitions and Homilies of Clement" (also known as the Clementine literature), of book dated to as early as the 2nd century, James appears as a saintly figure who is assaulted by an unnamed enemy some modern critics think may be Paul. Centuries later Martin Luther did not want it in the Bible, because Luther followed Paul.

But the church is stuck with James. The authenticity of the book was never in doubt. And as the first leader of the church after his brother, James is just too important.

James chapter 1: an overview of religion

1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting.

The twelve tribes: the very first thing he indicates is that the Old Testament is still relevant.

Scattered: implying that they belong in the lands of their inheritance. That is, the first thing James teaches is that the land laws still apply.

1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

This is the major theme of the book: there is no need for stress, you'll get there in the end. This contrasts with Paul's view that obeying the law is hard work because you have to be perfect.

Faith: Greek pistis, meaning a conviction, which implies evidence.

the trying of your faith worketh patience: this makes no sense of "pistis" means blind faith. If bad things happen (you fall into temptation) and you have blind faith, this does not cause joy. But if you see the logic behind it, it gives you patience because you have learned. "I see now why I went wrong. now I can be patient because I know that next time I can avoid this mistake." The process James describes is logical.

Perfect: Greek "teleios": to be complete. Or as James says, to be entire, wanting nothing.

Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect: patience, not good works, causes you to be complete. Your lifetime of learning from mistakes makes you a whole person, with patience and wisdom.

1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Every person has access to God: there is no no need for a religious hierarchy, or even for a Bible (except to urge people to turn to God). God (logic) is available to everyone.

upbraideth not: is not criticised. This continues the theme of the previous verse. If you make mistakes that's OK. Jesus is not obsessed with sin. To be a complete person you have to make a lot of mistakes and that's OK.

1:6-7 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.

Ask in faith: ask in conviction. Expect a definite, firm answer. This is only possible if you ask logic. If you ask some supernatural being you cannot be sure of a rock solid clear answer every time.

Nothing wavering: wavering (being unsteady in conviction) is a symptom of blind faith. You never know if you will get an answer.

driven with the wind and tossed: blind faith makes you easy prey to false religions. You are not in control of your life.

let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord logic gives concrete results. Trust in the supernatural often does not.

1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

double minded: Greek "dip-psychos", literally "two psychologies". The phrase only appears in James: here, and in 4:8. The concept of two minds was common in the Greco-Roman world. It referred to Plato's view that the mind has three parts: logic, appetite, and anger (or high spirit). Modern people would see them as just two parts, logic and emotion. The wise man lets logic rule. The supernatural mind lets emotions conflict with logic.

This principle reflects the first of Moses' ten commandments, and the first of Jesus' two commandments: love God (logic) with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 6:5). Heart and soul must be as one. James is clearly condemning those, like Paul, who see a conflict between flesh and spirit. For example,

"For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." (Galatians 5:17)

For Paul, relying on the supernatural (that makes no sense and always disappoints), the mind is in conflict with the spirit. For James, rejecting the supernatural, there is no struggle.

1:9-11 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways.

Having set the stage of a concrete common sense faith, we now move to the economic results: an equal society.

This is the heart of the gospel. Unlike Paul's idea of a spiritual heaven some time after we die, James is working for an economic kingdom of God here and now. Indeed, his whole purpose for sending Paul to see the other churches was to collect money from the rich for the poor. But Paul used it as a platform for preaching a "salvation after we die" message instead.

1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

"endure": Greek "hypomeno" simply means to remain, or stay behind. Paul did not remain with the Jewish church, with its crown of life in this life. He began to plan his own supernatural church where results are never seen in this world.

"Hypomeno" does not have to imply unpleasantness. James seems to be paraphrasing the end of Psalm 5 (in the Septuagint, the version used in New Testament times): "And all those who love your name will boast in you because you will bless us with righteousness; O Lord, as with a shield of approval you crowned us." The whole psalm is about joyfully obeying God, and the KJV translates the "boasting" part as "But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy", and other translations use the words "forever". This is not enduring in the sense that Paul means, as a fight; this is in the sense that Jesus said, "my yoke is easy and my burden is light"! Yes, life is hard (we must sometimes carry a cross), but belief is not hard if it based on logic: it is joyful.

1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

Paul taught that God tests people (e.g. in 1 Thessalonians 2:4). A skeptic might say this is because Paul's solutions do not work and he has to explain why his followers are not blessed as expected. Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) said that God was testing Abraham when Abraham thought he should kill his son (Hebrews 11:17). The author of 1 Peter also agrees that God tests us, and rewards then come in supernatural ways (1 Peter 1:6-7) But James says this negative and supernatural view is wrong. God is logical: if we do what is right, as a community, we see the results.

(It is sometimes claimed that Psalm 105:19 refers to God testing someone, but that refers to words refining someone: that is, words making someone better.)

1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

Our problems come because we lust after things - we want easy rewards without paying the price. This of course refers to the community as a whole: obviously the innocent can suffer in the short term if other people in the community do bad. The kingdom of God is all about community, and we stand or fall not just alone but together.

1:15-17 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

It is logical, simple, absolute, and clear. Good leads to good. Bad leads to bad. As Jesus says, you know by the fruits.

1:18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

We were created by logic: logic created all things. And we can use logic, so we can be the greatest of creations.

1:19-20 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Wrath: this seems to be another reference to Paul. Paul frequently refers to the wrath of God: ten times in Romans alone. He even supports rulers who claim to exercise wrath on behalf of God:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." (Romans 13:1-4)

Here James makes clear that wrath has no place in God's righteousness. Paul describes a vengeful God, but James describes a loving God.

1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

Word: "logos" - logic. Logic will save your souls.

engrafted: Greek "emphutos" meaning growing inside: the logic inside you. But Paul rejects logic and meekness in favour of proclaiming himself a supernatural apostle. One who also seems to reject the written word: he rejects the law of Moses, and almost never quotes the words of Jesus.

1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

Now we get to the heart of the matter: good works.

1:23-24 For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

"natural face": Greek "tes geneseos autou" or literally "the beginning self". The phrase means "the face of his birth". Paul left the religion of his birth, the law of Moses, where he could have seen clearly.

"in a glass": Paul admitted to seeing only "through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12). But James, the head of the church, saw clearly.

1:25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

The land law of Moses is the perfect law of liberty: it gives everyone equal opportunities and does not allow elites. In contrast, Paul talks of being in bondage to God (Ephesians 6:20, Philippians 1:7, etc.), and a supernatural religion where most rewards are after death.

1:26 If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.

Paul writes a great deal, but does not focus on good works. His religion is vain: it cannot create a kingdom of God on Earth, as proven when the church gained the power to do so on the medieval period.

"Vain": Greek "mataios" meaning worthless. It usually refers to pagan worship. Paul introduced pagan worship by turning the religion of Moses and Jesus (a system for building an economic kingdom) into a supernatural mystery religion where a divine leader's death brings salvation], as with Mithras, Osiris, etc.

1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

Pure religion means good works!

James chapter 2: on faith versus works

2:1-2 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

"come into your assembly": this must refer to Christians, believers, not outsiders.

"assembly": synagogue. This is the original Jewish church not Paul's new gentile church.

"a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel": Paul's church is hierarchical: it naturally creates elites. Whatever the good intentions. this always leads to economic inequality. By the fourth century the bishops literally had gold rings and costly apparel and even palaces.

Inequality was the biggest problem in Roman society. It crippled the economy, prevented growth, so the masses of the desperately poor stayed poor. Paul also condemned it in his words (e.g. in 1 Cor 11:22) but his hierarchical approach made it inevitable in the church.

2:3-4 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

"in yourselves": this refers to divisions within the believers, not outsiders.

"are become judges of evil thoughts": in a hierarchical church the leader sits in the best place and is a judge of your thoughts.

"partial... judges": A play on words: "die-krithete" and "kritai" - having judges and separating rich and poor go together. In law of Moses, judges were not priests, and had no more land than anybody else. So it was a job among equals. People could simply walk away if a judge lost the community's respect. But Paul's church is hierarchical: the bishops are different from others, claim supernatural power, and must be obeyed.

2:5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

A reference to Matthew 5, the meek inherit the earth, the poor in spirit have the kingdom. Contrast a bishop who is not meek (teachable) and is treated as if rich in spirit.

2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgement seats?

In the law of Moses, after the captivity (when the land laws were a memory) the community gathered to judge in the synagogue. All were equals. But in Paul's hierarchical church the judgement seat is reserved for an elite. Economic inequality always follows social inequality.

2:7 Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?

All followers take the name of Christ. If a hierarchy can order them around they order Christ.

2:8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:

A reference to Leviticus 19:18. The full context is:

"Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:16-18)

The whole concept of a hierarchical church goes against this. One member (ea priest or bishop) is not to judge another's thoughts or beliefs, or rebuke him. The only rules are for actions, and those are civil matters.

"the royal law according to scripture": in the original law of Moses every man was a king: sovereign of his own land, and it could not be taken from him. This guaranteed equality. All other laws (e.g. to treat others as you would be treated) flow from that.

2:9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

Bishops have respect to persons: bishops have more authority. This is sin.

2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

This does not refer to minor points, but specific central points such as killing somebody: see the next verse.

2:11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

Why refer to killing? Isn't that example a bit extreme? How many people make a habit of killing others? But Paul did when he was known as Saul. As the number one persecutor of the church he helped deliver Stephen to be stoned, and probably many others. Saul then declared he had started a new life, as if those killings did not matter. As Paul he boasted of being celibate and his high moral standards. But that does not change the fact that he killed people before, and was never tried for his crimes. Perhaps he would have been found innocent, but he was never tried.

2:12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

"The law of liberty": a reference to the land law, where every 50th year they ensure that land is shared equally:

"And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family." (Leviticus 25:10) 2:13 For he shall have judgement without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgement.

People forget that the law of Moses is flexible and merciful, mainly because all people are economically equal, so all decisions must be agreeable to the majority (see part five of this book). Hence the "mercy seat" crowns the ark of covenant. In contrast, Paul's laws are strict because they are based on a hierarchy. Hierarchies reduce mercy because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Note the irony: Paul claims that the old law was strict and his new law of grace is merciful. But that can never be true: only democracy guarantees mercy, but grace implies you beg and are powerless.

2:14-16 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

This may be a direct condemnation of Paul's words to Timothy, where Paul says that some of the hungry widows should not be fed:

"Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, 10 well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints\92 feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work. But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith." (1 Timothy 5:9-12) 2:17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

This is the central condemnation of Paul. Paul said we are saved by faith without works. James said that kind of faith is dead.

2:18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

James' religion is not supernatural. James wants proof.

2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Slam! It is hard to think of a stronger condemnation of Paul's theology. Believe and be saved? Then the devils are saved.

2:20-23 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

Paul, In Hebrews 11, claimed the opposite, that Abraham was justified by belief. Note that faith, Greek "pistis", means a conclusion and implies evidence. James and Jesus refer to visible evidence (the fruits of religion). But Paul's religion had no evidence, so he redefined faith as unseen evidence (Hebrews 11:1)

2:24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

In Romans and Galatians Paul teaches the opposite.

2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

In Hebrews 11:31 - Paul teaches the opposite.

2:26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

In Hebrews and Galatians Paul teaches the opposite.

James chapter 3: on hierarchical religion

3:1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Paul's hierarchical church has many masters: apostles, bishops, etc.

3:2-6 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

James wrote very little, and did not set himself above others. Paul wrote a great deal and set himself above others. Paul meant well, but his writings did great damage to the church. This is inevitable whenever we have hierarchies: men set themselves up as representing God based on their position, not based on the logic of what they say.

3:7-9 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Paul was known for cursing those who did not agree with him:

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8)

He even cursed the High Priest (which would have caused great difficulty for James' diplomatic efforts), though Paul apologised when he learned who he was. Apparently Paul did not mind cursing ordinary people, but he respected powerful people.

"Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." (Acts 23:3-5)

To be fair, Paul also used profanity against himself and his followers. Here, "filth" and "offscourings" are the Greek "perikatharma" and "peripsema", used as vulgar curse words in their day:

"Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day." (1 Corinthians 4:13)

Sometimes his curses were fairly mild, but still curses:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Romans 6:1-2)

The phrase translated as "God forbid" was the "Greek 'Me genoito' which is the strongest Greek idiom to indicate repudiation (refusal to accept and implies a casting off or disowning as untrue, unauthorized, or unworthy of acceptance) and even conveys the idea of outraged indignation. In other words, it was equivalent to today's 'hell no!'" (Source: thinkhebrew.wordpress.com/ 2010/02/19/pauls-profanity)

Paul was happy to use coarse words against his enemies:

"Paul wishes his legalistic enemies would 'mutilate themselves' or 'cut themselves off' (Gal. 5:12), rather than try to circumcise his Gentile converts. Consider how many modern Christians would gasp if their preacher used language like this in a Sunday sermon. In Philippians 3:2-3, Paul uses a play on words in the Greek to describe his enemies. He calls them the 'false circumcision' (katatome), and he calls Christians the 'true circumcision' (peritome). Katatome means to 'cut through' the penis, whereas peritome means to 'cut around.' This is a pretty vulgar way of describing his enemies." (from evidenceunseen.com, defending Paul's strong language)

In this final example, he refers to his experience in the law of Moses as dung (excrement). How was James or any devout Jew supposed to feel?

"Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law *, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung [Greek "skubalon", excrement], that I may win Christ" (Philippians 3:5-8)

These are just the words that made it into the scriptures. What did he say in private?

3:10-14 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

Paul had evyings (he wanted to be an apostle), strife (he used the language of conflict), he gloried, and he opposed what Jesus taught (good works) while saying it is from Jesus.

3:15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

Paul claimed spiritual inspiration.

3:16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

All the church's problems come from that: the strife against Rome was about to destroy everything Jesus intended, and set back the work by two thousand years.

3:17-4:2 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Paul used the language of conflict and refused to compromise. He was not a relaxed man. James next spends some time examining Paul's motives.

James chapter 4: Paul's motives

4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

"receive not": Paul had frustrations and unanswered prayers. In this example he asked for something three times but it did not happen:

"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

What are these "lusts" (Greek "hedone" - desire for pleasure)? Let us continue reading 2 Corinthians 12:

"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing. Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds." (2 Corinthians 12:10-12)

Paul takes pleasure in it, glories in it (and glories in being a fool - see ), he desires to be an apostle and claims to be as good as any of the others. But wait, Paul says he is humble doesn't he? A proud man would never claim to be humble, right? But continue reading 2 Corinthians 12 and see what is implied:

"For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile. Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you? I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps? Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying." (2 Corinthians 12:13-19)

Clearly the local believers were accusing Paul of being a burden, of taking money from them. As Pal says he meant well - and no doubt he delivered some or all of that money to the church in Jerusalem, but it is the nature of a hierarchical missionary church to have elites who take money from the poor. See James 2 for commentary.

4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

The book of James is not just an attack on Paul of course. James is sending out general advice. But every verse fits Paul's teachings to a greater or lesser degree.

"Friendship of the world": a possible reference to Paul taking an easier version of the faith (no circumcision or good works) to the gentile nations, rather than strengthening the church at home. The word "world" is "Kosmos" and may be a reference to a passage that would have particularly disturbed James, in Romans 11.

Romans was probably Paul's last book, it is where his views become the most extreme (hence it is the favourite of those who prefer the supernatural). Toward the end of the book he openly talks about Israel falling, about the old religion becoming a trap and a stumbling block, to the benefit of the gentiles and the "Kosmos".

"What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for ; but the election hath obtained it , and the rest were blinded (According as it is written , God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear ;) unto this day. And David saith , Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened , that they may not see , and bow down their back alway. I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall ? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world [kosmos], and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office" (Romans 11:7-13)

Note the last lines: Paul says the Jews will envy them, and he is "the apostle to the gentiles", taking Peter's title (see Acts 11 and 15) and saying he (Paul) will magnify the office. Every word is almost calculated to provoke James and the old church.

"Adulterers: In James 2:11 James just said that causing death means you may as well be an adulterer. Possibly this was a reference to Paul who was famously celibate, yet caused conflict with Rome, and that conflict led to martyrdoms. James was saying that if you cause death you may as well be an adulterer.

"and adulteresses"

In Old Testament times the church was compared to a bridesmaid (Isaiah 54:5 etc.), and rejecting the law of Moses made her an adulteress (Jeremiah 2:1-3, etc.). Paul encouraged people to reject the old law.

4:5-6 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

Paul wanted to be an apostle. Paul constantly appeals to grace, yet the sign of grace is humility: if Paul was humble he would not call himself a apostle or claim to speak for Christ (when Christ has already spoken for himself).

4:7-8 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.

double minded: see commentary to James 1:8

4:9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.

Paul rejoices in his afflictions. But he should accept that they have logical causes and he has good reason to feel bad...

4:10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.

...because that is the only way to stop doing the bad things and be happy.

4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.

Note that although James taught principles that condemned Paul, he never judged Paul. He did not mention Paul in the text, and he did not excommunicate Paul or prevent him from preaching. James was the leader of the church, yet treated all men as equals and allowed differences of opinion.

In contrast, Paul referred to actual individuals who disagreed with him, and his hierarchical church later took this to its logical conclusion, punishing any heretics who dare to think differently.

4:12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

God (logic) is in charge. if the church has logical structures (e.g. Moses land laws, leading to democracy) it has no need to condemn others as heretics and punish them.

4:13 Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain:

This describes Paul's missionary journeys: he continued for a year or two in each major city. Did Paul buy and sell? He must have done, unless he simply took money from the local members, which would be worse.

4:14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

Paul's church is a stressful church. It has to be, because it is always in conflict and always looking to expand. While Paul spoke about letting the spirit do the work, in practice he worked and slaved and worried about his converts. He constantly worried about the enemies he saw all around him:

"For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ." (Philippians 3:18 ) "Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews ... the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me." (Acts 20:18-19,23) 4:15-16 For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.

An apparent reference to 2 Corinthians:

"I say again, let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little. That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting." (2 Corinthians 11:16-17) 4:17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.

Having summarised the problems with Paul's supernatural gospel, James finishes with what really matters: doing good. He finishes with a chapter on economics:

James chapter 5: economics

5:1-3 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.

And how did the richest get rich? Especially in ancient times?

5:4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth.

Unearned wealth from land, that's how. Everything comes back to land: see part five of this book for details.

What does this have to do with Paul? As noted earlier, the book of James contains general principles that apply to all people. It's just interesting how it also applies to Paul. These verses for example, are about economics, the heart of the Bible message. But note the phrase in verse one:

"Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days". This does not just mean "for later", the word is last days, the Greek word for last is "eschatos", familiar to anybody who has studied supernatural prophecies of the end times. The whole passage is similar to Jeremiah 12. Jeremiah, like James, has done everything he can, yet sees that Jerusalem will be destroyed. He wonders why the wicked prosper while he struggles. If the book of James is really about Paul, the the wicked would be Paul, who gains influence in the church while James' attempts to build friendships are undermined.

The language of harvest also sounds like Paul's metaphor of his work with fellow labourers, harvesting the fields:

"I have planted , Apollos watered ; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building." (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

In the same passage Paul promised his labourers rewards of gold, silver, or whatever they put into the work:

"Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward." (1 Corinthians 3:12-14)

The rewards of course can only be seen by faith and might not be delivered until after death. So different from the good rational cause-and-effect kingdom preached by James.

5:5-6 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.

The last part does not sound like typical rich person behaviour, but applies to Saul's early life. If Saul was Simon (as argued in part nine of this book) then the first part might apply to him as well. Was Simon rich? Successful charismatic preachers often are, and he was rich enough to try to buy his way into church leadership.

In more general terms, James was writing at a time of Roman persecution. He links all these sins together: half of his book is about how killing is like adultery, and internal dissensions lead to cursings and other sins. James may see the Roman persecution as a result of bad behaviour by Christians such as Paul.

James went out of his way to make peace, but too many other Christians seemed dazzled by the promise of supernatural wealth in the next world: they were eager to offend the powerful and become martyrs, bringing down more persecution on the innocent.

5:7-8 Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.

James died in AD 62 or 69. If Jesus faked his death (see part seven) then his brother James probably knew, and half expected him to come back. Even if Jesus; body was dead, his spirit could rise again through some other leader. It was only a matter of doing the right thing and being patient. See the commentary on Mark 13 for the coming of the son of man.

5:9-11 Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

While some parts of Job are clearly symbolic, the message was that he was rewarded in this life, not the next.

5:12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.

Above all, nothing supernatural. And stop offending the Jews and Romans!!

5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

James continues his summing up. Think deeply (for how prayer is rational thought, see the commentary to Mark 14:36). Enjoy life!

5:14-15 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

At first glance this appears to be both supernatural (healing through prayer) and hierarchical (only the elders could do it). But a closer reading shows that it is neither:

any sick: this as a time before any good medicine. What follows is the best they could hope for.

elders: Greek "presbuteros" from the root "presbus" meaning elderly. Get all the oldest people together. They will have the most experience and wisdom. Some reader think "the elders" means a hierarchical office, but in the early days anybody could try to heal. Eventually this practice evolved into the "Unction", part of the "Last Rites" but even then it did not have to be by a priest until the ninth century. (See the Pulpit Commentary for details.)

pray: meditate, think. See the commentary to Mark 14:36.

oil: the best medicine they knew. It was routinely used by doctors to treat wounds.

name of the Lord: the best healer they knew. For how Jesus healed the sick, see the commentary to Mark 1:34.

faith: "pistis", conviction, implying evidence.

shall save the sick: if the wisest people are convinced the person will be healed, then the odds are he will be healed. It follows logically that "the prayer without faith shall not save the sick" - that is, if the elders are not convinced the person will live then he might die.

if he has committed sins: note the "if". Unlike Paul, James does not assume that everybody is a sinner, or that sins are so serious. We all make mistakes.

forgiven: Stress and worry can make a physical illness worse. James has a relaxed attitude to sins. They should be forgiven if it helps.

In short, James is giving practical advice, of the same kind as "are you merry? then sing". There is no need to see any of this as supernatural.

5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The power of community, and the power of meditation and deep thought. James was a thoughtful man who brought people together, not a charismatic firebrand who divided people.

Why mention healing at all? Because Paul claimed miraculous gifts. James is saying, "So? We heal people too, without needing a supernatural theology."

5:17 Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.

Continuing the theme of prayer (deep thought), Elijah (Elias) was a good example of a man who understood and was patient. Like James. For why this story is not supernatural, see the commentary near the end of part four of this book.

as we are: Elias was an ordinary person, i.e. not supernatural

prayed earnestly: Greek "proseuche proseuxato", literally "he prayed, prayed": "the meaning is not his fervency, nor even his frequency of prayer, but that `he just prayed'--that, and nothing more!" (IVP New Testament Commentary) The point is, as James said, Elijah was an ordinary man praying in an ordinary way. That is, having an inner dialogue with logic.

that: this word is not in the Greek. Elijah was simply praying - thinking - about the serious matter of the expected drought. The obvious parallel is with James discussing the need to be patient during bad times.

5:18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

Keep praying, keep thinking, to see you through the bad times, and eventually good times will come. Note that Elijah had to endure Ahab's usurping of power. A parallel for James enduring Paul?

5:19-20 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

This has important implications for compromising with the Jews and Romans. It was necessary to convert the Romans and Jewish authorities to sympathy with the idea of the original law of Moses, so a kingdom of logic could be established. This was worth almost any cost: more than worth the silly matter of compromising over circumcision or recognising Roman gods (as discussed elsewhere on this page). Such trivial "sins" will be covered by the greater good. James is not obsessed with sin, he sees the bigger picture.

Contrast this with Paul: Paul believed that even a tiny sin like envying something would keep a person from the supernatural kingdom:

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past , that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)

Ironically, this uncompromising obsession with imaginary supernatural kingdom prevented the political compromises needed to achieve the real kingdom. Paul, doctrinally a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), repeated the Pharisees' greatest error: being so picky over the tiniest thing (like paying a tithe on some tiny herb) that they miss the bigger picture:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith..." (Matthew 23:23)

What happened to the followers of James

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the scattering of the Jews in the AD 130s, most of the Jewish believers went over to the much larger and more secure gentile group. The ones who would not give up the law of Moses lived a quiet life of piety. They and are known to history as the "Ebionites" (Hebrew for "the poor"). They followed the teachings of Jesus and James, and considered Paul to be an apostate. They kept the law of Moses, avoided wealth, and rejected supernatural elements like the divine predestination or bodily resurrection: Jesus was simply the greatest teacher, and was anointed (i.e. became Christ) at his baptism. The Ebionites were probably vegetarian, but little more is known about them Paul's church declared them to be heretics. They tried to escape to Cyprus but did not survive.

"The Ebionites gradually lost influence and followers. According to Hyam Maccoby (1987) their decline was due to marginalization and 'persecution' by both Jews and Christians." (Wikipedia)

Conclusion: which side was right?

None of the preceding material proves that the message of Jesus was non-supernatural or that Paul's supernatural view was opposed by James. All it proves is that it is possible to interpret the Bible that way. That is, the supernatural is not necessary. Though Occam's razor says we should reject unnecessary elements on principle.

We really just have two points of view. A "he said, she said" situation. If only we could check Christian teaching against a third source, a rational and objective source from the period. Thankfully we can: we have the learned Christians and their gospel, Thomas.


The gospel of Thomas

Thomas is a skeptic's charter

The gospel of Thomas is a skeptic's charter, a guide to life without the supernatural. But Jesus' thinking was two thousand years ahead of his disciples. So to them, Thomas was the most confusing and mysterious book of all.

Such irony: the skeptic's charter becomes the keystone of mysticism. It is rather like the old science fiction trope: any sufficiently advanced thinking is indistinguishable from magic.

Most scholars judge Thomas (and all the words of Jesus) what his followers believed. So they happily class it as mystical. But Jesus' followers did not understand him: that is the whole point!

I want to judge Jesus by his words alone. Let's apply Occam's razor liberally. If a non-supernatural explanation can work, we must use it. Then we will find that Thomas, far from being the hardest gospel to understand, is actually the easiest, and the key that unlocks the others.

Rational and objective Christians

The gospel of Thomas is the core text for the group known as "the learned" (the Greek word is "gnostic"). They attempted to explain Christianity in rational terms. While many of them also accepted the supernatural, they at least tried to base their beliefs on reason as far as they could.

"The learned" had no hierarchy: there was nobody to say "you must interpret it my way because I am the authority." Each person was free to try to understand for himself or herself, and to try to persuade others through rational argument. And with no hierarchy they had nothing to lose by changing their minds.

Contrast this with Paul's Christianity: Paul openly rejected "Greek wisdom" as a method for finding truth (see 1 Corinthians 1). For Paul, the truth is whatever your leaders tell you, and don't expect to understand it until after you die.

Since the learned Christians were the most focused on logic and the most objective, they are our best guide to what Jesus actually said. 

The earliest gospel

The gospel of Thomas may be the earliest source for Jesus' words: perhaps even earlier than Mark. Here is the evidence:

  1. Early physical copies:
    Very few original copies of any documents (religious or otherwise) survive from the first and second centuries, as the paper used then did not last long, and books were simply copied and discarded. but the earliest copies of the gospel of Thomas are just as old as the earliest copies of other gospels.
  2. The wording suggests it is older than the other gospels:
    "A direct dependence upon another non-canonical gospel is very unlikely. If one considers the form and wording of the individual sayings in comparison with the form in which they are preserved in the New Testament, the Gospel of Thomas almost always appears to have preserved a more original form of the traditional sayings, or presents versions which are independently based on more original forms." (ntcanon.org/ Gospel_of_Thomas.shtml)
    For the counter argument, see below.
  3. The best candidate for the original gospel:
    Jesus came from an educated wealthy background and had many wealthy, educated followers (see "Early Christianity: Opiate of the Privileged?" by Rodney Stark). It follows that they would have written down his saying at a very early point. Thomas is the only surviving candidate for such a collection.

The most reliable gospel

Unlike the more familiar gospels, Thomas is merely a collection of sayings. It does not rely on any historical events. Its truth can be demonstrated by its internal logic. So it is the easiest to prove, and the least susceptible to being proven wrong.

Doubting Thomas: the skeptic's gospel

If this gospel was written by the same "doubting Thomas" we read about in the gospel of John, then he is the world's most famous skeptic:

"But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God. Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." (John 20:24-29)

Thomas (full name Judas Thomas) is called "didymus" meaning "twin". According to tradition he was Jesus' twin brother. He grew up with Jesus: he saw Jesus and his "miracles" both before and during his ministry. If Thomas rejected the supernatural then it is good evidence that so did Jesus.

Blessed are they who use logic

Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed:
Applying Occam's razor (do not invent the supernatural if it is not needed), Jesus' statement can be interpreted as part of a non-supernatural faith. Thomas had enough evidence to deduce that Jesus could survive the crucifixion, and the witnesses should have confirmed the fact. While his refusal to believe was touching, as he was emotionally involved, Jesus was saying that Thomas should have known from the logic of the prior evidence.

Arguments for Thomas being a late invention

All the arguments for Thomas being late turn out to be arguments for Thomas being early:

  1. Too many parallels with other gospels?
    There are many parallels between Thomas and other gospels. This is exactly what we should expect if Thomas was first: the other gospels rely on Thomas. But if Thomas is simply a harmony of the other gospels, we have the problem of explaining all the additional sayings.
  2. Most scholars prefer a later date?
    Most scholars rely on Paul's version of Christianity, which is not logical (it is based on supernatural claims) and not objective (its bishops have a lot to lose if proven wrong). Those who prefer the learned Christians tend to conclude a much earlier date.
  3. Thomas reflects late mysticism?
    Many scholars argue that Thomas reflects the increasingly mystical ideas of AD 100 or later. For example:
    "The Gospel of John has to be finished by 100 since the Valentinians are heavily engaged with it already in the early second century. My point is that it is not that one text is dependent on the other [Thomas and John], but that both were coming into existence around the same time, and the traditions had been in conversation for some time before the composition of either text was complete." (Isla Carroll, author of "The Voices of the Mystics")
    These theories are based on the idea that Thomas is supernatural in nature. But there is nothing in Thomas that requires a belief in the supernatural: quite the opposite! So the mystical theories have no foundation.
  4. Thomas places too much importance on Matthew?
    Saying 13 implies that the three most important disciples were Peter, Matthew and Thomas. Peter was an obvious choice. So was Thomas, this was his gospel. But why Matthew? To most people Matthew is only important because he has a gospel named after him, which would suggest that Thomas was written later. However, the importance of Matthew becomes obvious when we see Jesus as an economist advocating land rent instead of tax. Matthew as a tax collector! Matthew is exactly who we would expect if Thomas was very early, before the economic teaching was lost.
    In contrast, if Thomas was written later why didn't he choose a more important apostle like John, one of the inner circle and author of a gospel? Or James son of Zebedee, also in the inner circle? Or James the just, successor to Jesus as head of the church? Or Mark, the earliest gospel writer? Or Luke, who also wrote Acts? We could argue that Matthew was first in the Bible, but was that order even established when Thomas was written? And why choose that trivial detail and not some other person with something interesting to say, like Judas, or Mary? If Thomas is late then the choice of Matthew appears random. But if Thomas is early then Matthew is the best possible choice.
  5. Saying 5 and 31 have the language of Luke and not Mark?
    If Thomas was late, we should expect an even spread of quotes from the other gospels, rather than most from Mark. Given its use by the learned, we should probably expect most of it to be from John, but instead we find that any quotes are mostly from Mark and just two are from Luke.
    Why Luke? Jesus would have said a lot of things over his three year ministry, no doubt repeating the same ideas in different ways. In general the older gospel (Mark) is always to be preferred, but occasionally a later gospel (Luke) would have a genuine statement that the earlier one missed, or a statement that better captures the meaning. So if Thomas is a true record of what Jesus said, we should expect most of it to be close to Mark, and a very small number of passages to be closer to Matthew or Luke.That is exactly what we find.
  6. A lack of apocalyptic themes (Bart Ehrman)
    Bart Ehrman argues that Thomas must be late because it has no apocalyptic themes. According to Ehrman, Jesus was a supernatural teacher who preached an upcoming apocalypse. But Ehrman is following Paul's supernatural theology. If we stick with just what Jesus wrote, according to the earliest sources, there is no reason to think that Jesus taught anything supernatural. The absence of anything supernatural is a strong argument for Thomas being very early indeed.
  7. Two saying are closer to the Syriac translation?
    Two passages are closer to the (presumed later) Syrian translation of Mark than the (presumed earlier) Greek translation. Does this mean Thomas was dependent on the Syrian version? No, but it does indicate Thomas's reliability.
    The two passages in question are those that deal explicitly with economics: Thomas 54 (the poor and the kingdom of heaven) and Thomas 65-66 (on tenants). Economics is precisely the central topic that was least understood by the disciples. That is the whole point of this book: Jesus was an economist and the disciples did not understand. So the Greek text is likely to lack nuance on those passages. But a Syrian translation would be closer in those cases. This is why:
    So rather than an argument for Thomas being late, this is an argument for Thomas being a better reflection of Jesus' words.

Why was Thomas not in the earliest New Testaments?

Thomas appears to be some of the raw source notes for the later gospels. The later gospels were more complete and easier to follow, so there was no reason to keep a separate copy of the notes. The learned Christians though would prefer the source material, so they kept the notes.

Thomas, line by line

(This translation is from the Gnostic Society Library, gnosis.org/naghamm/gthlamb.html. Some of the commentary relies on research at EarlyChristianWritings.com.)

Plain speaking, not mystic

These are the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke and which Didymos Judas Thomas wrote down.

This introduction is not a saying of Jesus. It's the understanding of the editor who collected the sayings.

The living Jesus: Marvin Meyer, a respected translator of Gnostic texts, says 'the living Jesus' is "probably not the resurrected Christ as commonly understood, but rather Jesus who lives through his sayings." (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 67). See parts two and seven of this book for how Jesus is his ideas.

The secret sayings: since this does not refer to the resurrected Jesus, it probably refers to Mark 4:9: Jesus explained his parables to his closest followers. So rather than the secret teachings being mystical, they are the plain explanation of hat Jesus meant.

Thomas: the skeptical one. He wanted proof. So when Jesus explained what his parables meant, Thomas wrote it down.

Resurrection is not supernatural

(1) And he said, "Whoever finds the interpretation of these sayings will not experience death."

The Interpretation: the non-supernatural one. Occam's razor says we do not need any other explanation.

See part two of this book for why Jesus' teachings on life after death are not supernatural.

Knowledge is power

(2) Jesus said, "Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All."

Note that this is a collection of isolated saying. Each one can be on a different topic.

Seeking until he finds: we find answers through our efforts, not supernatural means.

He will become troubled: the answers are not what most people are taught . . .

He will be astonished: . . . the truth is much better!

He will rule over all: Knowledge is power. Once we know how the universe works, and no longer fear death, anything is possible.

Knowledge is not supernatural

(3) Jesus said, "If those who lead you say to you, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty."

Do not look to the supernatural heavens or the hidden depths. Look to logic.

The kingdom is in the sky: the supernatural interpretation

It is in the sea: the hidden mystical depths interpretation

Inside of you: logic, common sense

Outside of you: evidence: what you see around you

It is you who are...: you are the son of man, the common man

It's common sense

(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 they will become one and the same."

Even a child can see plain facts.

The skeptics' charter

(5) Jesus said, "Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest."

Once we accept the evidence in front of our face then we understand how the world works. A skeptic does not need supernatural explanations.

The skeptics' charter again

(6) 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."

His disciples want rituals and rules. But Jesus aid the world is simple: tell the truth and do not do what seems wrong. Then everything will make sense.

Don't be fanatics

(7) Jesus said, "Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man."

Occam's razor is a wonderful thing. It saves us from needless confusion. Here Jesus is talking about lions. Consider:

Galilee was the stronghold of the Zealots since their last great uprising in the 40s BC. They would hide in the caves and villages of Galilee and emerge to oppose Rome throughout the nation. They willingly chose death rather than compromise: they would even kill their own families rather than work with Rome:

"the ardent patriots who would not endure the reign of the usurper and who fled with their wives and children to the caves and fortresses of Galilee to fight and to die for their conviction and their freedom. All these 'robbers' were in reality Zealots. Josephus relates of one of them that he slew his wife and his seven sons rather than allow them to be slaves to the Idumean Herod." ( Jewish Encyclopedia, Zealots)

Naturally, the Romans grew tired of the rebellions and made a brutal example of them. We don't know if many Zealots were literally fed to the lions, but that was the most dramatic and memorable symbol of Roman punishment (since 186 BC).

At the height of the last uprising a teenager called Herod had just been made governor of Galilee. (For the details see Josephus, See Antiquities of the Jews, xiv. 9:2-3) Herod wanted to prove his strength, so he systematically hunted down the Zealots and killed them all, and no doubt many innocents suspected of hiding them. We don't know exactly how he killed them, but when a Roman teenager wants to prove himself by smashing an uprising of robbers you can be sure there was a lot of blood.

Jesus lived in Zealot Central. He knew that Zealots always made things worse. They led to Rome strengthening her hold on the region (and eventually led to the destruction of Israel). But Jesus had a better way. Jesus way was working. See part seven of this book, and "what might have been".

Cursed is the man... the lion becomes man: to the outside observer, a fanatic is a fool. The lion rules in this situation: he certainly shows more intelligence.

(Note: do not confuse Jesus' crucifixion with a fanatic's martyrdom. Jesus reluctantly took a calculated risk, and he survived. He demonstrated the power of logic and careful preparation as a way to overcome any obstacle, even crucifixion. And in doing so he managed to escape the fanatics who followed him everywhere. For details see part seven of this book.)

Common sense economics

(8) And he said, "The man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea and drew it up from the sea full of small fish. Among them the wise fisherman found a fine large fish. He threw all the small fish back into the sea and chose the large fish without difficulty. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

Many of Jesus parables are about economics, like this one. The kingdom of logic is judged by its results.

If we want to be symbolic, and perhaps link this to the previous saying about martyrs, compare Jesus to the Zealots. The zealots go after small fish: they attack Roman soldiers and assassinate minor officials. But Jesus goes after the big fish: he becomes friends with tax collectors and centurions, and almost persuades Pilate himself. By targeting people of influence, and using sound argument, one man, Jesus, got further towards Jewish independence in three years than thousands of Zealots got in two hundred years. The message: work smart, not hard.

Economics again

(9) Jesus said, "Now the sower went out, took a handful (of seeds), and scattered them. Some fell on the road; the birds came and gathered them up. Others fell on the rock, did not take root in the soil, and did not produce ears. And others fell on thorns; they choked the seed(s) and worms ate them. And others fell on the good soil and it produced good fruit: it bore sixty per measure and a hundred and twenty per measure."

Economics again. Most of Jesus' teaching are economic: whether we take it literally or metaphorically, people are judged by what they create.

Careful planning

(10) Jesus said, "I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes."

Jesus lit fires in the heart of centurions, tax collectors, Pilate, etc. If only his followers had continued his careful, intelligent work Israel would have soon been free.

Life after death

(11) Jesus said, "This heaven will pass away, and the one above it will pass away. The dead are not alive, and the living will not die. In the days when you consumed what is dead, you made it what is alive. When you come to dwell in the light, what will you do? On the day when you were one you became two. But when you become two, what will you do?"

Remember that sayings are not necessarily connected. This one is about life after death:

See part two of this book for details.

James was to run the church

(12) The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

James was to run the church. After Mark and Thomas, the book of James is the best guide to the gospel.

The righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being:
One way of looking at the universe is that intelligent life is its greatest creation.

Against hierarchies

(13) Jesus said to his disciples, "Compare me to someone and tell me whom I am like."
Simon Peter said to him, "You are like a righteous angel."
Matthew said to him, "You are like a wise philosopher."
Thomas said to him, "Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying whom you are like."
Jesus said, "I am not your master. Because you have drunk, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out."
And he took him and withdrew and told him three things. When Thomas returned to his companions, they asked him, "What did Jesus say to you?"
Thomas said to them, "If I tell you one of the things which he told me, you will pick up stones and throw them at me; a fire will come out of the stones and burn you up."

I am not your master: this is central to Jesus' non-hierarchical message. Years later, when Matthew reports this (in Matthew 16), the church has become very hierarchical. So Matthew changes this to say Jesus is the master.

Three things . . . if I tell you . . . : Jesus had to be very careful what he said. If he had spoken plainly ("all kings are wrong", "most religious people fight against God", etc.) he would have been crucified much sooner.

A fire will come out of the stones: see saying 10: this is fire in the long term. In the long term when people reject truth they only hurt themselves.

Conventional religion

(14) Jesus said to them, "If you fast, you will give rise to sin for yourselves; and if you pray, you will be condemned; and if you give alms, you will do harm to your spirits. When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them. For what goes into your mouth will not defile you, but that which issues from your mouth - it is that which will defile you."

fasting, prayer and alms: Jesus describes conventional religion, which tends to become supernatural and does not solve the world's problems

give alms: charity is not the solution: by fitting so neatly into a bad economic system it helps perpetuate poverty. Logical economics (e.g.the law of Moses: no tax, land rent instead) is the real solution.

go into any land... eat what they will set before you: be sensible, go out and do things. What you say matters, not what you eat: you need logic, not religious rules.

Worship logic, not people

(15) Jesus said, "When you see one who was not born of woman, prostrate yourselves on your faces and worship him. That one is your father."

Logic is the father: it redeems and creates (see part one of this book). Logic is personified, but is not the kind of person born of woman.

Note that this does not refer to Jesus. Jesus was born of Mary, a woman. He just said (in saying 13) that he is not the master.

Change is hard

(16) Jesus said, "Men think, perhaps, that it is peace which I have come to cast upon the world. They do not know that it is dissension which I have come to cast upon the earth: fire, sword, and war. For there will be five in a house: three will be against two, and two against three, the father against the son, and the son against the father. And they will stand solitary."

People did not understand how an economy based on mutual respect could work. They had only ever known an economy based on force. In any house the younger generation may be open to new ideas, but the older generation would have everything invested in the old economic system.

These ideas are revolutionary

(17) Jesus said, "I shall give you what no eye has seen and what no ear has heard and what no hand has touched and what has never occurred to the human mind."

Although his teachings were fundamentally the law of Moses, his focus on property, wealth creation and rent mean Jesus was the first modern economist.

How logic works

(18) The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us how our end will be." Jesus said, "Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death."

Jesus uses the question as a way to illustrate how logic works: if you know the beginning state you can calculate the most likely end state.

Will not experience death: those who understand life know that death is nothing (see part two of this book)

The power of logic

(19) Jesus said, "Blessed is he who came into being before he came into being. If you become my disciples and listen to my words, these stones will minister to you. For there are five trees for you in Paradise which remain undisturbed summer and winter and whose leaves do not fall. Whoever becomes acquainted with them will not experience death."

Came into being before he came into being... will not experience death: Our identity is our ideas. Some ideas are eternal. (See part two of this book.)

Stones will minister: logical people can make nature serve them.

Five trees: Philo of Alexandria (20 BC to AD 50) wrote of five trees in the garden of Eden: representing (1) life, (2) immortality, (3) knowledge, (4) comprehension, (5) knowledge of good and evil. These trees are evergreen and never lose their leaves.

For you... undisturbed: they are always there for you. That is, if you follow logic, all five kinds of knowledge are always available to you.

Economics again

(20) The disciples said to Jesus, "Tell us what the kingdom of heaven is like." He said to them, "It is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds. But when it falls on tilled soil, it produces a great plant and becomes a shelter for birds of the sky."

We are judged by our fruits.

(Note that in a rational economy, wealth is defined as whatever people want: not just physical goods but happiness, friends, love, community, etc. This is not about money.)

Jesus' plans for Israel

(21) Mary said to Jesus, "Whom are your disciples like?" He said, "They are like children who have settled in a field which is not theirs. When the owners of the field come, they will say, 'Let us have back our field.' They (will) undress in their presence in order to let them have back their field and to give it back to them. Therefore I say, if the owner of a house knows that the thief is coming, he will begin his vigil before he comes and will not let him dig through into his house of his domain to carry away his goods. You, then, be on your guard against the world. Arm yourselves with great strength lest the robbers find a way to come to you, for the difficulty which you expect will (surely) materialize. Let there be among you a man of understanding. When the grain ripened, he came quickly with his sickle in his hand and reaped it. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear."

Here Jesus had to speak in a parable: openly discussing a political an economic revolution for Israel was likely to cause bloodshed (see saying 16).

A field which is not theirs: the land of Israel.

The owner: Rome (see "arm yourself" and "against the world")

Undress: he will take everything

The difficulty which you expect: obviously Rome will take an interest

Arm yourself with great strength: clearly weapons are not enough: Rome has a far bigger and more skilled army. "Great strength" must refer to other forms of strength (moral, economic, etc.).

The best way to be strong is to teach the people or grow your wealth (see previous saying): that way you can get Rome on your side: show it is in their interest to help you. That is, love your enemy.

Impartiality, equality

(22) Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples, "These infants being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom." They said to him, "Shall we then, as children, enter the kingdom?"
Jesus said to them, "When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and the female one and the same, so that the male not be male nor the female female; and when you fashion eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in place of a hand, and a foot in place of a foot, and a likeness in place of a likeness; then will you enter the kingdom."

Make decisions based on logic, not outward appearance.

Only a few will understand

(23) Jesus said, "I shall choose you, one out of a thousand, and two out of ten thousand, and they shall stand as a single one."

Only a few will understand the message, but they will work together as one.

The logic inside you is what counts

(24) His disciples said to him, "Show us the place where you are, since it is necessary for us to seek it." He said to them, "Whoever has ears, let him hear. There is light within a man of light, and he lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness."

The logos is "the light of man" (see John chapter 1)

Equality again

(25) Jesus said, "Love your brother like your soul, guard him like the pupil of your eye."

This is a form of logical objectivity: your brother is like you, with the same needs. It is more efficient to work together then as enemies


(26) Jesus said, "You see the mote in your brother's eye, but you do not see the beam in your own eye. When you cast the beam out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to cast the mote from your brother's eye."

We must be objective, and see things as others would see them.

The law of Moses

(27) Jesus said, "If you do not fast as regards the world, you will not find the kingdom. If you do not observe the Sabbath as a Sabbath, you will not see the father."

Fast as regards the world: or "from the world". That is, give up the world

The Sabbath: See part five of this book for how rational observance of the Sabbath is logical and creates a better world (whereas a supernatural view of the Sabbath does the opposite)

Being mentally drunk

(28) Jesus said, "I took my place in the midst of the world, and I appeared to them in flesh. I found all of them intoxicated; I found none of them thirsty. And my soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world. But for the moment they are intoxicated. When they shake off their wine, then they will repent."

People do not see clearly: it is like we are drunk. Yet we are not thirsty - we do not want the "living water" of truth. So when they die they have nothing more than when they were born.


(29) Jesus said, "If the flesh came into being because of spirit, it is a wonder. But if spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders. Indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth has made its home in this poverty."

Plato's view was that the physical world is like flickering shadows on a cave wall: the real world is logic, the bright light outside.

It is amazing that logic creates the physical world. It would be even more amazing if the imperfect physical world just somehow magically existed, then created perfect logic. The fact that our imperfect brains can understand even a portion of the logic that created them is amazing.

wealth: note that wealth refers to all good things, not just money.


(30) Jesus said, "Where there are three gods, they are gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him."

Anybody anybody representing God could be called God. E.g.

"God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods." (Psalm 82:1) "Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:34-36)

If there are only one or two people they might feel weak. But if they are god-like (logical) then the spirit of Jesus is with them.


(31) Jesus said, "No prophet is accepted in his own village; no physician heals those who know him."

It is hard to be objective about a person when you knew him as a child, and see him relax, eat, etc.

Results must be visible

(32) Jesus said, "A city being built on a high mountain and fortified cannot fall, nor can it be hidden."

Jesus often taught that we are judged by our visible results. 

No secret teachings

(33) Jesus said, "Preach from your housetops that which you will hear in your ear. For no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel, nor does he put it in a hidden place, but rather he sets it on a lamp stand so that everyone who enters and leaves will see its light."

These teachings are only secret (see the introduction) in the sense that Jesus answered his disciples' questions after his lecture had finished and the crowd had gone away. This is like any professor in any university: you outline the main points to a large group, then have smaller private tutorials where students can have more details.

The goal of private tutorials is not to increase secrecy but to make the message more plain, so students can go an use the ideas in public with confidence. The only problem was, Jesus was too advanced and even after the tutorials most students did not get it.

Supernatural religion is dangerous

(34) Jesus said, "If a blind man leads a blind man, they will both fall into a pit."

This saying condemns supernatural religion. If you do not understand exactly how the religion works, how can you show others?

Helping the mentally ill

(35) Jesus said, "It is not possible for anyone to enter the house of a strong man and take it by force unless he binds his hands; then he will (be able to) ransack his house."

The context for this saying is in Mark:

"The scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils. And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house." (Mark 3:22-27)

Jesus helped the confused by ending their confusion. He did not add to it by inventing new supernatural ideas. (See the commentary on Mark in part six of this book.)


(36) Jesus said, "Do not be concerned from morning until evening and from evening until morning about what you will wear."

What we do is more important than how we look.

Priorities! This is a practical religion. Decide what actually matters.

No hierarchies

(37) His disciples said, "When will you become revealed to us and when shall we see you?" Jesus said, "When you disrobe without being ashamed and take up your garments and place them under your feet like little children and tread on them, then will you see the son of the living one, and you will not be afraid"

Disrobe: this does not imply nakedness: it mean removing a robe, leaving a loincloth so you can work as the poorest labourers do.

Clothes were a sign of financial status. When we see ourselves as equal to the poorest labourer we will understand Jesus.

The disciples did not understand

(38) Jesus said, "Many times have you desired to hear these words which I am saying to you, and you have no one else to hear them from. There will be days when you will look for me and will not find me."

This implies that the disciples did not understand the message. And Jesus knew that he would soon be gone.

Wisdom is the answer

(39) Jesus said, "The pharisees and the scribes have taken the keys of knowledge and hidden them. They themselves have not entered, nor have they allowed to enter those who wish to. You, however, be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves."

If scribes and pharisees had supernatural teachings leading to impossible requirements.

Jesus' way was wisdom (that is, logic): to be wise as serpents (but innocent, not cunning).

Only logic will succeed

(40) Jesus said, "A grapevine has been planted outside of the father, but being unsound, it will be pulled up by its roots and destroyed."

Outside of: "without the help of"

Anything not based on logic (on God, the father) will not produce fruits and will not survive.

We must produce results

(41) Jesus said, "Whoever has something in his hand will receive more, and whoever has nothing will be deprived of even the little he has."

We are expected to produce results. A kingdom (such as the kingdom of God) is an economic unit and is only as good as what we produce. (See the commentary to Mark 4:25 in part six of this book).

This is why hierarchies are so bad: ho can you produce results if somebody else hard grabbed all the resources Once resources are shared fairly it becomes fair to expect results. (Not money in particular, but a better world.)

Be objective

(42) Jesus said, "Become passers-by."

Logic requires us to be objective: to see life as a passer by would.

Judged by results (again)

(43) His disciples said to him, "Who are you, that you should say these things to us?" Jesus said to them, "You do not realize who I am from what I say to you, but you have become like the Jews, for they (either) love the tree and hate its fruit (or) love the fruit and hate the tree.">

Again, we are judged by results (the fruit of a tree).

Being illogical is the only unforgivable sin

(44) Jesus said, "Whoever blasphemes against the father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven either on earth or in heaven."

Holy spirit: literally pure breath; i.e. truthful, logical words.

Jesus was flexible in absolutely everything except logic. You can even insult him, but make sure your words and thoughts are honest and logical.

Or in heaven: If your spirit is not good (i.e. you have bad ideas) nobody will carry them on after your body dies. It will be too late to change: your ideas die with your body. See part two of this book.

Results and logic

(45) Jesus said, "Grapes are not harvested from thorns, nor are figs gathered from thistles, for they do not produce fruit. A good man brings forth good from his storehouse; an evil man brings forth evil things from his evil storehouse, which is in his heart, and says evil things. For out of the abundance of the heart he brings forth evil things."

This is economics in a nutshell: good work produces good results.

Heart: in Hebrew thought the heart represented the whole soul, particularly the thoughts, in contrast to the bowels which produced emotions.

Against hierarchies

(46) Jesus said, "Among those born of women, from Adam until John the Baptist, there is no one so superior to John the Baptist that his eyes should not be lowered (before him). Yet I have said, whichever one of you comes to be a child will be acquainted with the kingdom and will become superior to John."

Jesus is against hierarchies.

When old and new ideas conflict

(47) Jesus said, "It is impossible for a man to mount two horses or to stretch two bows. And it is impossible for a servant to serve two masters; otherwise, he will honour the one and treat the other contemptuously. No man drinks old wine and immediately desires to drink new wine. And new wine is not put into old wine skins, lest they burst; nor is old wine put into a new wineskin, lest it spoil it. An old patch is not sewn onto a new garment, because a tear would result."

Sometimes old and new ideas conflict. Like the supernatural and the non-supernatural views of the universe. We cannot pretend to accept both. We need to be clear exactly where we stand.

The power of working together

(48) Jesus said, "If two make peace with each other in this one house, they will say to the mountain, 'Move Away,' and it will move away."

For the context, see Mark 11:32, and the commentary in part six of this book. This refers to the logic that if we work together we can do great things.

Lone thinkers

(49) Jesus said, "Blessed are the solitary and elect, for you will find the kingdom. For you are from it, and to it you will return."

Deep thinking people tend to be loners. Eventually they are proven right.

Be the children of logic

(50) Jesus said, "If they say to you, 'Where did you come from?', say to them, 'We came from the light, the place where the light came into being on its own accord and established itself and became manifest through their image.' If they say to you, 'Is it you?', say, 'We are its children, we are the elect of the living father.' If they ask you, 'What is the sign of your father in you?', say to them, 'It is movement and repose.'"

From the light: in Plato and in John and other learned texts, light represents logic. It illuminates and makes clear (in contrast to the supernatural that only promises to be clear after we die).

Movement and repose: also translated as "movement and rest": the sign of logical people is that they get things done, and they are at peace in between. You do not see them merely keeping busy or being stressed.

Life after death is not supernatural

(51) His disciples said to him, "When will the repose of the dead come about, and when will the new world come?" He said to them, "What you look forward to has already come, but you do not recognize it."

Therefore it is not supernatural. Jesus' teachings (reconciling the law of Moses with the new Roman world of trade) is the kingdom: we just need to act on it to see it embodied physically.

It's about the living, not the dead

(52) His disciples said to him, "Twenty-four prophets spoke in Israel, and all of them spoke in you." He said to them, "You have omitted the one living in your presence and have spoken (only) of the dead."

False religion tends to be concerned with revelation in the past (and with after we die). True religion is concerned with here and now.

It's about ideas, not rituals.

(53) His disciples said to him, "Is circumcision beneficial or not?" He said to them, "If it were beneficial, their father would beget them already circumcised from their mother. Rather, the true circumcision in spirit has become completely profitable."

Again, Jesus is practical, about common sense cause and effect. Rituals themselves achieve nothing (the most they can do is symbolise something else)

Against hierarchies (again)

(54) Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven."

The poor are those who have to work. Work is the basis of economics. So the kingdom of heaven (i.e. a logical kingdom) is achieved through logical economics.

Put logic even before family

(55) Jesus said, "Whoever does not hate his father and his mother cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does not hate his brothers and sisters and take up his cross in my way will not be worthy of me."

Hate: Greek "misei". The equivalent in Jesus' language, Aramaic is "sana" or "set aside" (source: Jack Kilmon).

The outside world is nepotistic: people give their time to their family instead of the community, or sometimes the family demands their time. But Jesus requires you to put the wider community first. (If we do that then the individuals are looked after automatically)

Plato again

(56) Jesus said, "Whoever has come to understand the world has found (only) a corpse, and whoever has found a corpse is superior to the world."

The real world is the world of ideas. Once we realise this we are no longer limited by the world. See part two of this book for details.

Embrace Rome, embrace heretics

(57) Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a man who had good seed. His enemy came by night and sowed weeds among the good seed. The man did not allow them to pull up the weeds; he said to them, 'I am afraid that you will go intending to pull up the weeds and pull up the wheat along with them.' For on the day of the harvest the weeds will be plainly visible, and they will be pulled up and burned."

We are judged by results. We do not need to waste time fighting heretics, as we have nothing to prove: the results speak for themselves.

Note the application to modern politics: anybody who must win by attacking their opponent doesn't have much more to offer.

It's worth it

(58) Jesus said, "Blessed is the man who has suffered and found life."

It's worth it.

Against the supernatural (again)

(59) Jesus said, "Take heed of the living one while you are alive, lest you die and seek to see him and be unable to do so."

Another polemic against the supernatural: listen for answers now, make sure it makes sense now. Do not wait for answers until after you die.

Don't take the sheep metaphor too far

(60) They saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb on his way to Judea. He said to his disciples, "That man is round about the lamb."
They said to him, "So that he may kill it and eat it."
He said to them, "While it is alive, he will not eat it, but only when he has killed it and it has become a corpse."
They said to him, "He cannot do so otherwise."
He said to them, "You too, look for a place for yourself within repose, lest you become a corpse and be eaten."

Jesus is the good shepherd, but don't take the sheep metaphor too far: don't follow blindly or you'll be killed and eaten by your church. Find a quiet place, stop and think: or you might be killed and eaten!

Plato again

(61) Jesus said, "Two will rest on a bed: the one will die, and the other will live."
Salome said, "Who are you, man, that you ... have come up on my couch and eaten from my table?"
Jesus said to her, "I am he who exists from the undivided. I was given some of the things of my father."
<...> "I am your disciple."
<...> "Therefore I say, if he is destroyed, he will be filled with light, but if he is divided, he will be filled with darkness."

Salome: In later tradition this was the woman who had John the Baptist killed, but she was not named in the gospels. However, this scenario reminds us that Jesus spent much of his time eating with rich people (he was criticised for it), and was funded by wealthy women. These wealthy people would have been taught Greek philosophy. They were intrigued by Jesus' message.

Two will rest... One will die, and the other will live: This life is unpredictable, always changing, not reliable. Plato compared to flickering shadows on a cave wall.

The undivided: in Plato's Timaeus the demiurge creates the world by mixing an separating the divided and undivided. Logic is the undivided: it connects everything. Indeed, logic is defined by being undivided, in the sense that if it is true in one place that A + B = C the it is true in every place. It does not change even because of death. So logic provides certainty, whereas the existence of the body is always uncertain.

Light: Plato (and John, etc.) compare logic to light: it makes everything clear.

Be careful how you explain this

(62) Jesus said, "It is to those who are worthy of my mysteries that I tell my mysteries. Do not let your left (hand) know what your right (hand) is doing."

These things are easy for others to misunderstand. Jesus was killed because of that! So be careful what you say.


(63) Jesus said, "There was a rich man who had much money. He said, 'I shall put my money to use so that I may sow, reap, plant, and fill my storehouse with produce, with the result that I shall lack nothing.' Such were his intentions, but that same night he died. Let him who has ears hear."

We could die at any time (see also saying 61). So we need a philosophy that works even if we die. See part two of this book for such a philosophy.

On business

(64) Jesus said, "A man had received visitors. And when he had prepared the dinner, he sent his servant to invite the guests.
He went to the first one and said to him, 'My master invites you.' He said, 'I have claims against some merchants. They are coming to me this evening. I must go and give them my orders. I ask to be excused from the dinner.'
He went to another and said to him, 'My master has invited you.' He said to him, 'I have just bought a house and am required for the day. I shall not have any spare time.'
He went to another and said to him, 'My master invites you.' He said to him, 'My friend is going to get married, and I am to prepare the banquet. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused from the dinner.'
He went to another and said to him, 'My master invites you.' He said to him, 'I have just bought a farm, and I am on my way to collect the rent. I shall not be able to come. I ask to be excused.'
The servant returned and said to his master, 'Those whom you invited to the dinner have asked to be excused.' The master said to his servant, 'Go outside to the streets and bring back those whom you happen to meet, so that they may dine.' Businessmen and merchants will not enter the places of my father."

As with the previous verse, we need to think long term. The rich tend to be too busy to think of the bigger picture.

At first glance this seems to be against trade. But look at what Jesus actually condemns:

  1. Claims against merchants (injustice)
  2. Just bought a house (stress)
  3. Marriage: too busy making a feast to enjoy it
  4. Finally, the crowning example: he must collect unearned rent. This translation says "farm" but the original word is actually "KWMH" of village. He is extracting rents from others who work. This breaks the law of Moses (see part five of this book).

Notice that this parable supports good business:

What it condemns is bad business decisions: they choose stress instead of happiness, adversarial activities instead of meeting as a community

Thomas is very early

This is a clear example of a text that is earlier than the version used in Matthew and Luke. They make it more supernatural and allegorical, and switch the original business setting to a farming setting, more pleasing to the masses who are not comfortable with economics:

"'By comparison with the related parable Luke 14.15-24 (Matt. 22.1-14), Thomas offers an allegory-free version which may stand closest to the original parable. (For the secondary features in the present parable see on Luke 14.15-24.) This is the case despite the fact that as in Thomas 63 an urban milieu has taken the place of the rural one. The invitation expressed in the same words (vv. 2,4,6,8) is in popular narrative style.' (Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 622) Helmut Koester writes: 'The absence of secondary apocalyptic motifs is also evident in Thomas's version of the parable of the Great Banquet (Q/Luke 14:16-23 = Gos. Thom. 64). Matt 25:2-10 has allegorized this parable. Luke also added some allegorical features when he appended the second invitation to those on the roads and hedges of the countryside' (Luke 14:23), apparently a reference to the Gentile mission. At the end of his parable Thomas reports only the invitation to those on the streets of the city, and there are no traces of any allegorization in his version. This version is based unquestionably upon the original form of the parable and not on either Matthew or Luke. On the other hand, Thomas has changed the excuses of the first invited guests so that they reflect more closely the milieu of the city.' (Ancient Christian Gospels, p.99)" (earlychristianwritings.com/thomas)

Jesus constantly uses parables of business, to show how to act rationally. Later generations downplay these economic parables because they do not understand them. Paul for example never mentions a single parable.

Land rent

(65) He said, "There was a good man who owned a vineyard. He leased it to tenant farmers so that they might work it and he might collect the produce from them. He sent his servant so that the tenants might give him the produce of the vineyard. They seized his servant and beat him, all but killing him. The servant went back and told his master. The master said, 'Perhaps he did not recognize them.' He sent another servant. The tenants beat this one as well. Then the owner sent his son and said, 'Perhaps they will show respect to my son.' Because the tenants knew that it was he who was the heir to the vineyard, they seized him and killed him. Let him who has ears hear."

God supports rent. If you earn it, you keep it! But if you try to get unearned wealth, watch out! (Unearned wealth, since it cannot be taken privately, must be shared with all.)


(66) Jesus said, "Show me the stone which the builders have rejected. That one is the cornerstone."

See commentary to Mark 12:10-11. In Psalm 118 the cornerstone is Israel. As a general principle Jesus relies on the weak and achieves great things. His approach to life is vastly more productive than the present system, so a poor person who follows Jesus' advice can get better results than a rich person who does not. Put another way, Jesus produces much better growth (see the parable of the mustard seed).

Logic should be satisfying

(67) Jesus said, "If one who knows the all still feels a personal deficiency, he is completely deficient."

If your ideas have any gaps or weaknesses they are not logic.

It's worth it (again)

(68) Jesus said, "Blessed are you when you are hated and persecuted. Wherever you have been persecuted they will find no place."

"They" seems to refer to those who persecute, who reject the truth.

Hunger for truth

(69) Jesus said, "Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the father. Blessed are the hungry, for the belly of him who desires will be filled."

Persecuted within themselves: a skeptic must be harshest on himself. Contrast this with supernatural religions that say " do not be critical of your own beliefs, it will all make sense after you die."

The belly of him who desires will be filled: this can apply to both hunger for knowledge or for food: if we want something badly enough we will go out and work for it. Also, the Christians ensure that nobody in their group will starve: that would be inefficient.

Life after death

(70) Jesus said, "That which you have will save you if you bring it forth from yourselves. That which you do not have within you will kill you if you do not have it within you."

If you use the teachings you have they will spread to others: that will save you from death. See part two of this book for details.

If you do not have logic in you then how will your ideas spread to others? If they don't spread then when your body dies so does your spirit. Again, see part two.

No physical resurrection

(71) Jesus said, "I shall destroy this house, and no one will be able to build it [...]."

Mark gives the contest: the building is his body. When the body is gone it is gone. See part two of this book: Jesus denies the physical resurrection of the Pharisees and Paul.

While it is true that Jesus survived the crucifixion, his body would still die eventually like any other man's. But the house does not matter: the real Jesus is what's inside, and that spirit survives. See parts two and seven of this book for details.

Jesus' personality: my favourite quote

(72) A man said to him, "Tell my brothers to divide my father's possessions with me." He said to him, "O man, who has made me a divider?" He turned to his disciples and said to them, "I am not a divider, am I?"

I love this saying! We get what sounds like a spontaneous reaction, with warmth but exasperation. Jesus came to unite Israel, to share wealth, to show how logically things fit together. He previously used the Platonic term "undivided" to describe himself (see saying 61). Jesus is not a divider: he teaches how everthing fits together, he teaches how we can love enemies. And now here is some man wanting his help in dividing money for personal gain. The guy just does not get it! It's quite comical. I can imagine Jesus turning to his disciples in disbelief for the last line. They never forgot it, and it ended up in this collection of Jesus' best known sayings. A classic.

We need workers

(73) Jesus said, "The harvest is great but the labourers are few. Beseech the Lord, therefore, to send out labourers to the harvest."

Another economic metaphor. There is so much wealth to be created that we need more people!

The economic metaphor

(74) He said, "O Lord, there are many around the drinking trough, but there is nothing in the cistern."

Economics is about creating wealth, not just sharing it. Just as religion should be offering something. But the mainstream religion of his day offered supernatural teachings that were no use to anybody (except the elite who made a good living from it)

Lone thinkers (again)

(75) Jesus said, "Many are standing at the door, but it is the solitary who will enter the bridal chamber."

Bridal chamber: in the Old Testament, a symbol of the church (the people). The church waits for God (the bridegroom).

The solitary: logic is an individual thing: it depends on the individual's understanding, not on following the crowd. See also saying 49.

It's worth it (again)

(76) Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a merchant who had a consignment of merchandise and who discovered a pearl. That merchant was shrewd. He sold the merchandise and bought the pearl alone for himself. You too, seek his unfailing and enduring treasure where no moth comes near to devour and no worm destroys."

As in sayings 48 and 49, again 75 and 76 are two sayings about thinking "alone" for yourself. And again the emphasis that logic is more reliable than the physical world.

As always, this works best if a kingdom is exactly what Moses said, a literal kingdom. A successful kingdom is worth any effort, as it provides everything else (including wealth).

Study everything

(77) Jesus said, "It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood, and I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there."

With logic, you can study anything and it will all agree. Study science, history, think for yourself, it will all agree. Contrast this with religions that say some information is dangerous.

Jesus seems to be speaking of himself as the logos. For how a human can be an idea, see part two of this book.

Against hierarchies (again)

(78) Jesus said, "Why have you come out into the desert? To see a reed shaken by the wind? And to see a man clothed in fine garments like your kings and your great men? Upon them are the fine garments, and they are unable to discern the truth."

Jesus opposes hierarchies.

Jesus understood politics

(79) A woman from the crowd said to him, "Blessed are the womb which bore you and the breasts which nourished you."
He said to her, "Blessed are those who have heard the word of the father and have truly kept it. For there will be days when you will say, 'Blessed are the womb which has not conceived and the breasts which have not given milk.'"

Jesus saw that the political tensions would logically lead to an invasion, and to run for the hills when you see the first signs of this. See the commentary to Mark 13 for details. 

Understand the material world

(80) Jesus said, "He who has recognized the world has found the body, but he who has found the body is superior to the world."

When we understand the material world we understand everything. See saying 56 for something similar.

A system of merit, not hierarchy

(81) Jesus said, "Let him who has grown rich be king, and let him who possesses power renounce it."

Let him who has grown rich: Jesus adapted the land laws of Moses to allow land sales, so those who work hard can still become richer (see parts five and six of this book).

But since rent is paid on land, (1) people only get rich from work, not from just owning land, and (2) the price of land goes down so it is affordable for everyone. That's just logical economics.

...be king: Under the law of Moses everyone has equal claim to land, so they all have equal sovereignty: they are all equally kings.

Let him who possesses power renounce it: Jesus is against hierarchies. Anyone can gain riches, but that does not put you above someone else. If you want people to follow you then you have to earn their respect through serving them, as Jesus did.

Jesus is the example

(82) Jesus said, "He who is near me is near the fire, and he who is far from me is far from the kingdom."

Come near to Jesus to learn about the kingdom, which will grow and provide energy, like fire.

Plato again

(83) Jesus said, "The images are manifest to man, but the light in them remains concealed in the image of the light of the father. He will become manifest, but his image will remain concealed by his light."

Images: We Platonic ideals: the ideas we contain. See the next saying.

Concealed by his light: We do not see logic directly, we just see the light from it.

The symbolism is from Plato, probably via Philo of Alexandria: Philo writes on this topic of the image of God and the creation of Adam.

And more Plato

(84) Jesus said, "When you see your likeness, you rejoice. But when you see your images which came into being before you, and which neither die not become manifest, how much you will have to bear!"

We are in the image (literally shadow) of God: shadows of the original light. These shadows do not really die: as long as they are shadows are from part of the true light they come back again in other forms. (See part two of this book for life after death through other bodies.)

This is a lot of Platonic philosophy with far reaching implications: a lot to bear!


(85) Jesus said, "Adam came into being from a great power and a great wealth, but he did not become worthy of you. For had he been worthy, he would not have experienced death."

Adam did not understand at first. Eve and Cain had better understanding. See part three of this book for details.

Teaching people who didn't understand was hard work

(86) Jesus said, "The foxes have their holes and the birds have their nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head and rest."

Jesus had no rest from people who did not understand his message yet always crowded round him wanting miracles. This frustration that was part of the reason why Jesus had to fake his death (see part seven).

Stop worrying about bodies

(87) Jesus said, "Wretched is the body that is dependant upon a body, and wretched is the soul that is dependent on these two."

See previous comment, and part two of this book.

When will the world take what is on offer?

(88) Jesus said, "The angels and the prophets will come to you and give to you those things you (already) have. And you too, give them those things which you have, and say to yourselves, 'When will they come and take what is theirs?'"

The answers are here and nobody wants them!

Angels and prophets: messengers, usually in the form of scripture.

Those things you already have: life after death (see part two of this book).

You too... the disciples, wanting to share what they know

When will they come and take: when will people take what is on offer?

The inside is what matters

(89) Jesus said, "Why do you wash the outside of the cup? Do you not realize that he who made the inside is the same one who made the outside?"

The inside of a person (the spirit that makes things happen) is what matters, not the body

Do you not realize... if God approves the spirit then he must approve of the body he put round it

Logic removes stress

(90) Jesus said, "Come unto me, for my yoke is easy and my lordship is mild, and you will find repose for yourselves."

Logic puts you in control: there is no hierarchy to force its will on you. When you follow someone it's because what they offer will logically make life better

Contrast this with a supernatural religion, where you have to obey some higher authority even when you don't want to. Worse, they cannot defend all their commands logically.

Against the supernatural

(91) They said to him, "Tell us who you are so that we may believe in you."
He said to them, "You read the face of the sky and of the earth, but you have not recognized the one who is before you, and you do not know how to read this moment."

Another polemic against the supernatural: it's all about plain evidence, not blind faith.

Demand answers!

(92) Jesus said, "Seek and you will find. Yet, what you asked me about in former times and which I did not tell you then, now I do desire to tell, but you do not inquire after it."

This is a polemic against those who do not have inquiring minds. Demand answers!

Some people can't handle the truth

(93) Jesus said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, lest they throw them on the dung-heap. Do not throw the pearls to swine, lest they [...] it [...]."

Saying the truth got Jesus killed.

Prayer means asking logic

(94) Jesus said, "He who seeks will find, and he who knocks will be let in."

This can only be true if God is logic: logic always provides an answer (even if it's "insufficient data", in which case do more science!)

The first rule of economics: there must be no poor

(95) Jesus said, "If you have money, do not lend it at interest, but give it to one from whom you will not get it back."

Jesus repeatedly describes a kingdom where we are judged by results. In that ideal economy there can be no poor, because nobody can monopolize natural resources. In that economy interest can be paid (see saying 109). But this saying is about the economy now.

This saying implies there are people so poor that they cannot pay back loans. So the first priority now is not economic growth, but giving them enough to live.

If you have money: this is an instruction to the rich. In Roman times the vast majority lived at subsistence level or below. Jesus is telling the rich to help the poor.

Not get it back: they get no money back, but they do get a reward: a stronger society and hence more people to buy their goods.

The kingdom is about growth

(96) Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a certain woman. She took a little leaven, concealed it in some dough, and made it into large loaves. Let him who has ears hear."

The kingdom is often compared to a mustard seed, and leaven, and other things that grow. it's all about growth. This does not mean just growth of money of course: it is growth of all good things.

The history of Israel

(97) Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a certain woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking on the road, still some distance from home, the handle of the jar broke and the meal emptied out behind her on the road. She did not realize it; she had noticed no accident. When she reached her house, she set the jar down and found it empty."

The kingdom had gone wrong. This only makes sense if Jesus is talking of the literal kingdom (which did go wrong) and not some supernatural kingdom (which cannot),

The kingdom: Jesus always refers to the literal economic kingdom, a set up by Moses, but it had gone wrong, and he came to fix it.

A certain woman: in prophecies of the kingdom, the woman always refers to the people of Israel. Usually she is shown as not doing enough to be faithful.

Like... a jar full of meal: a kingdom is supposed to provide the needs of its people.

The handle of the jar: how the kingdom is controlled. If we want to be specific, this is the system of judges set up by Moses.

Broke: the kingdom was broken when kings replaced judges

The meal emptied out: the kings siphoned off the wealth nd grabbed the land, but by bit

She did not realize it: breaking the handle off a jar you are carrying should be obvious to anyone carrying it! Just as replacing judges with kings was a disaster. Yet the woman did not seem bothered.

She set the jar down and found it empty: the state of the kingdom of Israel in Jesus' day: the jar still existed, but it had nothing Godly left.

Plan ahead

(98) Jesus said, "The kingdom of the father is like a certain man who wanted to kill a powerful man. In his own house he drew his sword and stuck it into the wall in order to find out whether his hand could carry through. Then he slew the powerful man."

We must plan ahead. We must not be like the Zealots who thought their fanatical belief was enough to defeat powerful Rome, as if they would get supernatural help.

A meritocracy

(99) The disciples said to him, "Your brothers and your mother are standing outside."
He said to them, "Those here who do the will of my father are my brothers and my mother. It is they who will enter the kingdom of my father."

Success must depend on results, not on who we know.

Do not oppose Rome

(100) They showed Jesus a gold coin and said to him, "Caesar's men demand taxes from us."
He said to them, "Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, give God what belongs to God, and give me what is mine."

Jesus was not like the Zealots he would win through loving his enemies. See the detailed commentaries in part 6, on Mark 2:15 (on tax) and Mark 12:17 (on "render to Caesar")

"What is mine": this clarifies the saying in Mark. A person owns what he creates.

Meritocracy and love

(101) Jesus said, "Whoever does not hate his father and his mother as I do cannot become a disciple to me. And whoever does not love his father and his mother as I do cannot become a disciple to me. For my mother [...], but my true mother gave me life." "What he said about his mother (who gave him life?) cannot be recovered from the broken text. Perhaps he said, as in the Gospel of the Hebrews, that his mother was the Holy Spirit." (earlychristianwritings.com/thomas/)

See the commentary to sayings 55 and 99.

Against hierarchies again

(102) Jesus said, "Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog sleeping in the manger of oxen, for neither does he eat nor does he let the oxen eat."

The Pharisees acted as gatekeepers, restricting access to things, but based on position and not merit. This sums up what is wrong with hierarchical power in general. All power must be freely given as a response to service, as Jesus showed when he washed his disciples' feet.

Information is key

(103) Jesus said, "Fortunate is the man who knows where the brigands will enter, so that he may get up, muster his domain, and arm himself before they invade."

The need for intelligence: to understand the situation, and thus prepare. Contrast with the supernatural view, where you do not understand the bigger picture and will therefore put yourself in danger.

The role of prayer

(104) They said to Jesus, "Come, let us pray today and let us fast."
Jesus said, "What is the sin that I have committed, or wherein have I been defeated? But when the bridegroom leaves the bridal chamber, then let them fast and pray."

Fasting and prayer are ways to aid concentration when an answer is very hard to find. While Jesus was embodied the quickest way to get an answer was to ask him, not to fast and pray.

Love enemies  -versus-  the supernatural

(105) Jesus said, "He who knows the father and the mother will be called the son of a harlot."

Jesus taught to treat everyone as equal, which means loving enemies. But believers in the supernatural have to believe they are special (or what is the point in the supernatural?)

So supernatural believers must believe that loving enemies means compromising with Satan: or in Old Testament language, whoring after strange gods. For example:

"In Against Celsus 1.28; 32 Origen cites the tradition that Jesus was the illegitimate child of Mary, who 'bore a child from a certain soldier named Panthera.' It is known from a gravestone that a Sidonian archer named Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera was in fact stationed in Palestine around the time of the birth of Jesus. In this regard perhaps compare John 8:41." (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, p. 106)

The power of working together (again)

(106) Jesus said, "When you make the two one, you will become the sons of man, and when you say, 'Mountain, move away,' it will move away."

See saying 48.

The truth about the lost sheep

(107) Jesus said, "The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine sheep and looked for that one until he found it. When he had gone to such trouble, he said to the sheep, 'I care for you more than the ninety-nine.'"

In saying 60 we saw that the "be like sheep" metaphor should not be taken too far.

The famous "lost sheep" parable is used to justify hierarchies: the shepherd controls the sheep, who goes "astray". But in the original version (if Thomas is older) the sheep merely strayed: we cannot assume the shepherd was right and the sheep is wrong. Maybe the sheep wanted to go somewhere better? And the reason why the shepherd goes after him is that the sheep is the most valuable.

So here the sheep is given far more value as an individual, whereas, in the later version he's just one of many people to be controlled.

Becoming Jesus

(108) Jesus said, "He who will drink from my mouth will become like me. I myself shall become he, and the things that are hidden will be revealed to him."

For how Jesus lives on through us, see part two in this book (the general principles) and part seven (Jesus after the resurrection).

Note the implication: Jesus is not above us in a hierarchical sense, we follow him in the sense of wanting to be like him

The history and future of Israel

(109) Jesus said, "The kingdom is like a man who had a hidden treasure in his field without knowing it. And after he died, he left it to his son. The son did not know (about the treasure). He inherited the field and sold it. And the one who bought it went plowing and found the treasure. He began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished."

Moses' land laws were left to later generations and were not appreciated. So eventually kings took over.

Eventually people will dig in the text and see the treasure there (the land rent teachings). They will then benefit from building the kingdom and sharing it with others.

Interest: see saying 95: Jesus approves of interest in some circumstances.

Jesus targeted the rich

(110) Jesus said, "Whoever finds the world and becomes rich, let him renounce the world."

Much of Jesus' message was aimed at the rich. (See "Early Christianity: Opiate of the Privileged?" by Rodney Stark.) Jesus was planning an economic kingdom, so he had to reach the elites.

Why logic is so good

(111) Jesus said, "The heavens and the earth will be rolled up in your presence. And the one who lives from the living one will not see death." Does not Jesus say, "Whoever finds himself is superior to the world?"

This saying sums up the power of what Jesus offered to a world lost in the supernatural:

Rolled up: figuratively, in the sense that logic lets us understand them and read them like a scroll, using science. Also literally, because we can live forever (see part two of this book).

Superior: not limited by it; we can do better than it (thanks to science, superior economics and living forever)

Don't rely on flesh

(112) Jesus said, "Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh."

Woe to the flesh: flesh is just flesh. If it thinks breath makes it anything else, it is wrong.

Woe to the soul: if the soul (the spirit, your ideas, identity) makes plans based on the flesh (i.e. short term) results are not as good as if you plan long term.

The kingdom is not supernatural

(113) His disciples said to him, "When will the kingdom come?"
Jesus said, "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'here it is' or 'there it is.' Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it."

The supernatural view is wrong: the ideas are already here (government by consensus not appeals to power; land rent). Once we see that, we can implement it.

Spread out upon the earth: Logical people are everywhere.

No sexism: males and females are interchangeable

(114) Simon Peter said to him, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life."
Jesus said, "I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus treated both male and female the same (see saying 22). Hierarchies and inequality were illogical, so were alien to Jesus.

Peter said: In apocryphal texts Peter is portrayed as very sexist. This is hardly surprising given his culture and his interest in being the most important (see part nine of this book). For example, in the Pistis Sophia, Peter complains 'My Lord, we are not able to bear with this woman, speaking instead of us; she has not let any of us speak but often speaks herself'. In the gospel according to Mary (Magdalene), Peter refuses to believe that a woman could be told things that Jesus did not first teach the men. In the canonised gospels, the disciples were amazed to see Jesus had gone to a well and was "talking with a woman" (John 4.27).

She too: Jesus rejected hierarchies. In terms of logic, women are just like men. So if Peter will only accept men, fine, call women men and be done with it. This is in keeping with Jesus' repeated teaching about being one and not dividing.

You males: this about their particular sexism, not males in general. Why not just say "men and women are the same"? Because many parts of the law of Moses, being based in an even more sexist time, had to be different for men and women. Rather than open a can of worms by changing Moses, Jesus simply says "women can choose to be men."

Jesus cannot have been sexist: apart from his teachings on logic and unity and no hierarchies, he had many female followers and close admirers and was funded by women. In later learned (gnostic) texts, God is given both male and female aspects, and women are considered just as suitable for prophecy as men. This naturally stems from the learned Christians questioning everything and having no strict hierarchy.

And so ends the gospel of Thomas.

The learned Christians after Thomas

Thomas is most associated with the learned, now known by the Greek word for learned, "gnostic". Modern readers often assume they believed in supernatural salvation through secret knowledge. The text of Thomas shows the opposite.

Thomas rejects the supernatural, and only recommends keeping the message secret because people are easily offended (see saying 62). The teachings are practical and logical, and designed to be one day shouted from the rooftops (sayings 32 and 33).

Accusations of secret mystic teaching may be due to much later texts, or they may be a form of projection: the supernatural hierarchical church of Paul was based on the idea that the leaders had insights denied to the lower class of people.

Distinguishing features of the learned

The earliest learned Christians were not known for mystical secrets, but they were known for questioning everything, including the Bible. They generally conclude, a skeptical readers have down the centuries, that Genesis refers to at least two Gods: pure logic, and a lesser ruler or series of fallible rulers.

These other rulers make obvious mistakes, but are still important in the creation of civilisation. The learned came to call them "the skilled craftsman" or in Greek, "demiurge". They also recognised the valuable role played by the serpent in Eden, as well as the brass serpent of Moses, and Jesus' command to be as wise as serpents. So they often used the serpent symbol.

As lovers of logic, they tend to treat men and women the same, and see them as essentially one. Hence one hymn refers to Adam as both father and mother (before Eve entered the garden). Early learned groups sometimes had female leaders as well as male.

Learned individuals and groups

The best known learned Christian, other than Jesus himself, is probably John (author of the gospel). Other early learned groups include the following:

Those who love logic will question hierarchical authority. So the following groups and names are not strict organizations but loose groupings:

The Naassenes


The Naassenes (Greek "Naasseni", possibly from the Hebrew "nahash", snake) were active from around 100 AD and only mentioned by Hippolytus of Rome. They claim their teachings via Mariamne, a disciple of James. Their use of Hebrew suggests they may be a very early group.

Like all the learned they treated men and women as the same. This, and their respect for Greek thought leads some to speculate that they saw homosexuality as natural and good:

"It is certainly possible that the Naassenes viewed homosexuality as exemplifying their concept of androgyny. Carl Jung remarked, 'such a disposition should not be adjudged negative in all circumstances, in so far as it preserves the archetype of the Original Man, which a one-sided sexual being has, up to a point, lost.'" (Wikipedia)

Carpocrates and the idea of Anamnesis

Carpocrates taught that differences in class and the ownership of property are unnatural. He also taught that Jesus was not supernatural, but simply a very great teacher: Jesus had such a pure understanding of logic that he was not worried at all by physical things, and could deduce what happened before he was born, as if he was remembering the creation of the universe.

This concept of remembering before birth is not a supernatural thing: it is simply a result of the nature of human identity. If you understand your personality you can correctly guess what your personality would have done in previous eras. Plato calls this "Anamnesis", from the Greek for "not forgetting" (remove the "ana" and you have "a-mnesia", "not-remembering"):

Socrates [in Plato's play] suggests that the soul is immortal, and repeatedly incarnated; knowledge is actually in the soul from eternity, but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the trauma of birth. What one perceives to be learning, then, is actually the recovery of what one has forgotten. (Once it has been brought back it is true belief, to be turned into genuine knowledge by understanding.) And thus Socrates (and Plato) sees himself, not as a teacher, but as a midwife, aiding with the birth of knowledge that was already there in the student. The theory is illustrated by Socrates asking a slave boy questions about geometry. At first the boy gives the wrong answer; when this is pointed out to him, he is puzzled, but by asking questions Socrates is able to help him to reach the true answer. This is intended to show that, as the boy wasn't told the answer, he could only have reached the truth by recollecting what he had already known but forgotten." (Wikipedia)

Anamnesis is not reincarnation

Anamnesis leads some people to think Plato taught supernatural reincarnation. But the logic of his argument, and the example given, show that he meant logic. A person's identity is his ideas, and since his ideas are a formed since birth by his environment and his genes he will logically come to the same ideas as his ancestors, insofar as he and they think logically.

Plato and the ancients were of course not aware of genes, but they did observe that traits are passed on. Pythagoras, the first great Greek philosopher, had a particular interest in beans as carriers of information. Pythagoras' conclusions would have been similar to Plato's, that a person's identity is in his ideas, and ideas are passed on. Many see this as Pythagoras believing in reincarnation and magical properties of beans, but it is all perfectly rational.

Pythagoras and the learned

Pythagoras was a hero of the learned Christians: they saw him as a kindred spirit. Which he was, quite literally. The followers of Carpocrates honoured portraits of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and Jesus (the last allegedly painted for Pilate while Jesus was alive).

Of course, the centrality of logic (see part one of this book) and the idea of living on through children (see part two) are central to the Old Testament. As for recalling past lives, the Old Testament attitude to history was to focus on God (logic and on patterns just as much as on events. So they focused on the kind of thing that would have happened, even though the unimportant details may be wrong (such as Abraham using camels). So the concept of anamnesis was Hebrew as well as Greek.

For more about how we remember past lives (through genes, culture and logic) see AnswersAnswers.com/mind. Anamnesis was largely forgotten in the later Christian church, only remembered in the name of the sacrament that says "this do in remembrance of me".

Were the learned libertines?

We only know of the learned through the writings of their enemies, those who wanted a supernatural, hierarchical church: mainly Irenaeus of Lyons and Clement of Alexandria. They were shocked by the learned attitude to sin, and to sexuality in particular.

The learned Christians had the same attitude to sin as Jesus did: we must concentrate on the weightier matters like justice and mercy. This does not men we should ignore the little things, but all sorts of blasphemy can be forgiven, as long as you don't go against the purest ideas (the holiest spirit).

As for sexuality, the learned treated men and women the same. Since it as normal for men to work topless, we can only imagine what the more curious of them got up to. It must have been like the 1960s in Britain: thinkers experimenting, and the more traditional people shocked. Possibly all they did was let women show their ankles, but it was enough for all kinds of shocking rumours to fly. But even their enemy Irenaeus had to admit that the stories were probably exaggerated:

"I can hardly believe that all the ungodly, unlawful, and forbidden things of which we read in their books are really done among them." (quoted in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, on Carpocrates)

Cainites, Ophites and other small groups

Most of the learned groups were later banned, so are only known fro the briefest of mentions by their enemies: these may be just descriptions, not groups as such:

The Cainites were a group that showed great respect to Cain (see part three of this book for why this might be).

The Ophites (from the Greek "ophis" for snake) were another group that respected the serpent: or possibly the same as the Naassenes, above.

Sethians and deriving the universe from logic

The Sethians (named after Adam's son, the ancestor of the Hebrews) were one of the more interesting early learned groups. Sethians tried to understand bow logic could lead to the creation of the universe. This was their theory:

  1. Begin with nothing - a logical abstract that has no definition and hence no limits: it is everywhere and nowhere. We can call this "the unknown god".
  2. This then implies opposites: yes and no, light and dark, etc. The Sethians personified these as male and female pairs called "aeons".
  3. For anything else to exist, the first aeon must be the concept of "creation", symbolised by a combined father and mother, which they called "Barbelo".
  4. For this creation to have any kind of order they need wisdom, which they call "Sophia."
  5. This leads to the force that actually makes the physical universe. They call this the "craftsman" or "demiurge"
  6. The universe is obviously big and complicated, so the craftsman has helpers, petty rulers (or in Greek, "archons")
  7. The petty rulers plant the garden of Eden, as we read in Genesis.

Note that this is an attempt at a logical explanation: how logic (the logos) must have worked. It only appears supernatural because of jargon, but is not supernatural at all.

The Sethites also concluded that Eve has more wisdom than Adam, and that the ruler of Eden tried to rape her. This is implied by Genesis - see part three of this book for details.

The later groups

The preceding examples are groups that, as far as we can tell, were active before the Bar Kochba revolt and scattering of the Jews in the AD 130s. Then everything changed.

Although the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was bad, the Bar Kochba revolt in the 130s was worse. It is sometimes called "the rebellion of the exile" because it resulted in the Jews being scattered completely. The Jewish Christian church no longer had any ability to influence events.

This left a vacuum and the more bishops of the larger cities filled it, teaching the supernatural ideas of Paul. The learned, meanwhile, retreated into increasingly abstract and speculative ideas, further and further removed from what Jesus taught.

Irenaeus versus the learned

Irenaeus' most famous book is entitled "against choice" (in Greek "adversus haereses", usually translated "against heresies"). He attacked "the choice called Learned" or in Greek, "he legomene gnostike haeresis". That is, he condemned people who love learning (gnostic) because they gave people choices (haeresis). Choice and knowledge were dangerous to the increasingly powerful hierarchy of bishops.

Another of his books, directed mainly against a learned group called the Valentinians, was called "On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Knowledge." This was part of a long tradition of anti-intellectualism, where the phrase "so-called" is used to belittle any kind of expertise.

The case against the learned

Arguments against the learned Christians are the same in ancient times as today. They can be summed up as follows:

  1. They use jargon. This sounds cultish.
    The Valentinians categorised people and ideas into "aeons" (ideas that represent God: Jesus, wisdom, etc.), "archons" (imperfect rulers and their messengers), and so on. This sounded strange to the supernatural believers.
  3. They questioned the whole Old Testament
    As time went on, Paul's influence reached the learned. They decided that not only was the ruler of Eden inferior to the the logos, but the whole law of Moses was inferior, so it was all created by an inferior god.
  5. They opposed hierarchies.
    Jesus taught that everybody can be a son of God (see commentary to Mark 1:1 in part six). This threatened the power of the bishops so was declared heresy.
  7. They allow speculative ideas.
    The learned speculated freely. For example, on feminism, some took Jesus words that "women can become like men" to mean that women have no souls. Others went the other way, and praised women more highly than men (see Sophia, Eve, Noah's wife Norea, etc.)
  9. Some Jews distrusted the Greeks
    The Greeks had conquered Israel before the Romans arrived, so a lot of Jews disliked Greeks on principle. The learned, who valued the Greek philosophers, were condemned as being too pagan. But as the Jewish Encyclopedia points out, the so-called "gnostic" ideas plainly have their origin in Jewish thought.

  10. They learned failed?
    The final proof against the learned, used by modern Christians especially, is that they failed. Therefore their claims to be the first must be false: God would not let the wrong side win. But God had let Jesus be crucified. Sometimes the good guys are ahead of their time.

Did the learned really eat babies?

the learned were accused of all kinds of nonsense and evil, including the sacrificing and eating of babies. But this was typical for any attack on any religion. Followers of Paul were accused of the same thing:

"[The] description of a communion ritual which involves fornication and eating babies is uncomfortably like the accusation made against the Christians, and rebutted by Athenagoras (c.31-36) and Tertullian (Apol. 7). Origen tells us that Jews accused Christians of immorality and eating babies (Contra Celsum 6,27). Mandaean heretics also accused Christians of ritual horrors (Right Ginza IX = Lidzbarski 227, 8 ff.)." (roger-pearse.com/ weblog/2013/12/12/ summing-up-the-ancient-accounts -of-the-borborites-phibionites/)

This is not to say that some extreme group did not do extreme things, it we should not believe everything we hear. In history as in all life, the only thing we can be sure of is logic itself. The rest is open to debate.

What Irenaeus could not understand

The learned texts were advanced texts. They assumed the reader was already familiar with and obeys the law of Moses (the Torah). For example, during a lengthy discussion of how God lives inside us, Valentinus mentions that the Torah contains the rules, and the main rule is to do good:

"For someone who violates the Torah harms himself more than the judgement harms him. For he does his deeds illicitly, whereas he who is righteous does his deeds for the sake of others. Do therefore the volition of the Father, because you are from him. For the Father is kind, and things are good thru his volition." ("The Gospel of Truth "by Valentinus: verse 36)

The learned assumed that people knew the basics: to follow the Torah, to love enemies, to not have hierarchies. But Irenaeus did not understand even these basic concepts: as a follower of Paul he rejected the law of Moses, attacked his enemies, and sought to create a hierarchy of bishops. Lacking even the basics, the advanced learned texts seemed like nonsense to him.

Why the learned failed at the time

The learned failed ultimately because Jesus was ahead of his time. He understood economics (the study of kingdoms) and they did not. So they did not see how his message could work. Eventually they fell back on supernatural theories, just like Peter and Paul. But Peter and Paul embraced the supernatural first.


part nine: the church versus God