Now I have entered the part of Perrin’s book where he begins to interact with other Thomas scholars. As I noted last time the three scholars toward which Perrin gives the most attention are Stephen J. Patterson, Elaine Pagels, and April DeConick. The chapter I will be posting on here (“The Thomas community on the move”) is the chapter on Patterson.

Stephen J. Patterson is the professor of New Testament at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. It is his suggestion that the author of Thomas was not dependent upon the canonical gospels. Therefore, the Thomas community has its own, independent origins. 1

Patterson argues that the order of the sayings in Thomas do not parallel the Synoptics, therefore it is odd to see Thomas as the production of someone who was copying from the Synoptics. 2 Where it appears that the author of Thomas has adopted Lukan or Marcan language it is suggested this crept in at a later stage of the document’s development. 3 Therefore, it may be best to call the Thomas tradition “autonomous” rather than “independent” since at some point it was rubbed on by the Synoptics. 4

For reasons given in the book Patterson dates the original Thomas as early as AD 70. 5 It was the product of a Christian community that was itinerant, cut its family ties, and lived a life of poverty and begging. It “prioritized” the “presence of the living Jesus” over “Jewish rituals and disciplines”. “Finally, it was a community open to women–well, sort of. The bad news, as the last logion in the collection tells us, is that women had to ‘become like men’ first (Gos. Thom. 114).” 6

Perrin responds with the following points of agreement:

(1) He agrees that the Thomas community was an ascetic group.

(2) Thomas‘ eschatology is actualized.

(3) Thomasine Christianity and Syrian Christianity are rightly compared by Patterson. 7

Perrin brings forth the following critiques:

(1) He doesn’t agree with Patterson’s reasoning for his argument that there is no dependence on the Synoptics since there are Mattheanisms and Lucanisms. 8

(2) Patterson makes the same mistake at James Robinson by “playing fast and loose with the categories of form and genre”. Therefore, Perrin disagrees that this document is a mere “sayings” document that was compiled without much of an agenda therefore leading us back closer to the real, historical Jesus. 9

(3) Although ascetic, it does not look like other models of asceticism in early Christianity. It goes further than the Synoptic tradition in its emphasis on poverty. It ignores that the Jesus Movement came forth from the movement of John the Baptist which had rites and rituals early on. 10

The conclusions reached by Perrin are fourfold:

(1) The order of the sayings does need some explanation if one is going to argue that Thomas depends on the Synoptics.

(2) Thomas Christianity was ascetic.

(3) Thomasine eschatology was realized eschatology (more like The Gospel of John than the Synoptics).

(4) There “are certain semblances between Thomas Christianity and early Syriac Christianity. 11


[1] Nicholas Perrin. Thomas: The Other Gospel. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. 20-21.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 23.

[4] Ibid. 24.

[5] Ibid. 25.

[6] Ibid. 26.

[7] Ibid. 28-29.

[8] Ibid. 29.

[9] Ibid. 31.

[10] Ibid. 34-35.

[11] Ibid. 36.