A review of this book in the Christian Science Monitor said, “This remarkable book will stir and provoke thought. It offers rewards to any reader concerned with the promise and power of faith, and the hunger for spiritual discovery.” It lived up to this description and much more.
Pagels makes clear how choosing the gospel of John over the gospel of Thomas “shaped and limited” Christianity. Thomas directs each person to find the light within, where John says Jesus is “the light of the world’ and whoever doesn’t come through Jesus has no part of it. Thomas says, “you are from the kingdom and return to it,” where John says only Jesus is from God: “you come from below, I come from above.” John is saying Jesus is distinctly different than you or me, where Thomas asserts that we can become like Jesus.
The book of John is the only gospel to portray Thomas negatively, making him obtuse, “doubting,” and rebuking him as “faithless.” The whole gospel of John can be seen to refute what the Book of Thomas was trying to represent. After all, Thomas’ gospel allowed for a frightening level of individuality and that could be divisive!
Thomas teaches that, “recognizing one’s affinity with God is the key to the kingdom of God.” He encourages us to consider ourselves “children of God” which through John’s urging the church has suppressed. John instead offers a simple formula: Jesus loves you, believe in him and be saved. Eliminated is Thomas’ urging to become like Jesus.
I can completely understand together with Pagels how freeing Thomas’ interpretation can be, as well as how infuriating this would be to conservatives steeped in religious orthodoxy. While I do think Jesus’ role was unique, I accept him as my way-shower and try to emulate his character. Jesus was the best man to trod the globe and most fully represented the Christ, but I also agree with Thomas that the Christ is the essence of all of us, there for us to connect with and express as best we can.