Why isn't the Gospel of Thomas in the canon?

Monday Musings for February 13, 2017

Good morning, Musers,

The Gospel of Thomas is not in the biblical canon, but why not? Was it left out because it contained information that the church leaders wanted to keep away from the common people? That’s the usual conspiracy-theorist take on things. But there’s a funny thing about conspiracy theorists: the better job you do in presenting the actual facts, the more they feel justified that there is indeed a conspiracy! That’s a lifestyle preference that no amount of apologetics will fix. They travel in this weird circle where their secret knowledge is that other people have the secret knowledge!

Let me say — and this is from both a biblical and natural theological perspective — that God is in the revealing business, not in the concealing business… although the way he releases information over time means that some information will be concealed for a while… but only as is natural to that process. This delay is part of God’s communicative plan; he releases information at just the right time for optimal effectiveness. If you see God as anything less than conversational, then you are missing one of the great joys in life.

Conspiracy buffs join the many other categories of people who build a straw man (or a straw god in this case) to knock down — and the people cheer!… which is unfortunate. Because the god who hides information — and especially in a mean-spirited kind of way — does not exist. But a god like that is easy to dislike… so they do.

But how about the armchair theologians who get all their information about God from the television documentaries? Are they in any better shape? I’m not even sure that it is possible to be entertained into a deeper knowledge of God. But if that is possible, is that the way to go about it — to watch television programs written especially to plant doubt about the Bible? I’m thinking no.

But these are the types of problems we encounter when considering the Gospel of Thomas on the popular level. But if our television-trained sleuths walked in a textual critics’ shoes for a few miles, they would have a different perspective. The Gospel of Thomas was not excluded from the canon because it contained dangerous secrets that would wrest control away from the church; it simply did not make the cut! The early church fathers did not even bother with it… not because of conspiracy, but because it was spurious.

There is a persistent misunderstanding about the Bible that church leaders at the Council of Nicaea decided on which books should be in the Bible — and you know what’s funny about this “knowledge?” Those meetings were well documented! And no one there decided which books should be the Bible. In fact, since they discussed some key biblical doctrines, there was already an assumed canon… and that’s the key to this issue. No one chose which books would be in the Bible; the books chose themselves… and the Gospel of Thomas did not commend itself to authoritative status… nor does this missive!

(Click here to read more about the Gospel of Thomas in the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)