In my last post I surveyed Nicholas Perrin’s interaction with the proposals of Stephen J. Patterson. This time I will be surveying his interaction with the proposals of Elaine Pagels in chapter two.

Pagels understands Thomas to represent the “kind of faith that can be found within one’s self”. 1 The church suppressed this type of literature in favor for writings such as The Gospel of John that move Jesus into an exclusive place where he is worshiped as God, rather than our model as one of us who knows of his own divine spark. In fact, Pagels argues that John was written as a response to the theology of Thomas. 3

There are some interesting proposals put forth by Pagels. If John was written against Thomas then Thomas is a first century document. If Thomas is a first century document (at least in some redacted form) then it gives us a peak at early, early Christianity. If this is a version of early Christianity we must ask, from the perspective of a historian, whether or not it is viable to suggest that the Thomas community might represent a legitimate, early Christianity community that was closely connected, somehow, to the historical Jesus.

In response, Perrin affirms Pagels emphasis that “Thomasine Christianity is fundamentally an interiorized religion, one that clear identifies self-knowledge with salvation.” 4 Second, Pagels interest in Thomas’ “protology” (beginnings, which is also another connection with John [see 1:1-1:18]) is something worth following up on. Third, Pagels is right to ask why “Thomas” is the patron disciple of this gospel. 5

Perrin challenges Pagels on several points, most related to the suggestion that John eventually had a monopoly on early Christian theology:

(1) Pagels reconstruction of history makes “Christianity-as-we-know-it…a historical accident involving an isolated and misguided figure we call John than it does to anything that may have gone on in the first century” since Pagels understands John as being the gospel that church accepted wrongly and used as a lens to reinterpret the earlier three gospels. 6

(2) Although Pagels doesn’t see how the Christology of the Fourth Gospel could match up with the Synoptics, the early church “while quit aware of differences between the gospels, did not seem to be quite so bothered”. 7

(3) The high Christology of John can be found in Paul, the Book of Hebrews, and even the Synoptic Gospels! 8

(4) The early church didn’t determine doctrine because of John, especially since Matthew was the gospel of choice if there was one. 9

(5) Any attempts to deduct the gospel message down to John alone was challenged by Bishop Iranaeus when the Valentinians tried this very thing! 10

My next post will focus upon Perrin’s inter-textual reasons for challenging Pagel’s hypothesis that John was written as a polemic against Thomas.


[1] Nicholas Perrin. Thomas: The Other Gospel. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. 38.

[2] Ibid. 39.

[3] Ibid. 39-42.

[4] Ibid. 42.

[5] Ibid. 42-43.

[6] Ibid. 43.

[7] Ibid. 44.

[8] Ibid. 44-45.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.