In the description of the experiment of sorting cards to make groups of sayings with like-for-like meanings, it is written "it was discovered that a coherent set of spiritual Teachings were revealed" in the Gospel of Thomas.
Of the three key-words here, 'set' is simple enough. A glance at the Table of Contents of the book 'Jesus untouched' shows there are twentyfour of them. Another might be added: Non-attachment and Throwing Out Baggage. There are several sayings on the importance of being detached from previously-held ideas, of not clinging to the old, of releasing oneself from reliance on material things, and the need to have the will and the courage to do this.
A 'Teaching' is something passed from a teacher to a recipient that is voluntarily accepted and becomes a rule to live by, such that it becomes part of one's way of life. The Jesus of the Gospel of Thomas is Jesus the Life-Giver, so his Teachings contribute to our finding the true Life in the here and now.
'Coherence' comes from the verb to cohere which literally means to stick together, to become well-knit. However here it means more than making a mere patchwork of ideas. It is much nearer the analogy of the pieces of a jig-saw which not only fit and join together but also create a picture. They become something more than the sum of the parts.
In the book this coherence is indicated by the sequence in which the Teachings are arranged. The main thrust or line of growth lies through the early Teachings, which can be likened either to the stepping stones across a river to the paradise garden beyond, or to the steeper sections of a path as one climbs a hill. In practical terms, they reach the summit in the Teaching of Oneness.
Thereafter, just as from the top of a hill one can look around to many other fine prospects, there are complementary or supporting Teachingsof which that on Images is the most profound, and the gathering together of the sayings on Happiness and Joyousness most warms and uplifts the heart.
When the import of the final Teaching can be grasped it will be found to constitute a kind of epilogue to the whole.
Now we can consider other instances where such a coherence might occur. In some approaches this may be termed a 'System'.
The Indian mind is singularly adapted to evolving coherent language, coherent philosophy and a coherent expression of spiritual truths. While the latter takes several different forms, perhaps the most highly evolved is the advaita vedanta tradition.
We can now see that the gnostic tradition that developed during the early centuries of our era presented a coherent view of the nature of the universe, particularly its intangible forms, and of man's place in it. It sought to explain the predicament of our experiences of suffering and the means to rise above them.
Likewise, the Church Fathers worked intently to develop coherent doctrines for the Christian religion. These are crystallized in The Creed, where every phrase links to most highly developed doctrines. In particular, they added the communal dimension which is such a striking feature of Christianity, and cannot be seen directly in the records we have of Jesus' Teaching.
In the New Testament the author of Mark's Gospel sought to convey a coherence spanning from John the Baptist's activities through to the culmination of his Gospel with the Crucifixion. John in his Gospel, seeking to present his insights to a Greek readership, found a coherence in what we call the Farewell Discourses.
While the Gospel of Thomas as we have it does not display a coherence, it must have been necessary for Thomas to evolve a coherence in his thought and exposition in order to be able to convince King Agbai in Eddessa. That would also have been needed when he went to the south of India after 52 A.D., otherwise he would have been less successful. Furthermore, although the Gospel of Thomas seems to have been the primary scripture of the spiritual community here called the Thomas People, something of more coherence must have been developed to nourish and sustain that community for five or six centuries, and to inspire its writings of great mystical content that have been found.
What is surprising however is that in none of the Gospels, including that of Thomas as he dictated it, is there direct evidence of a real coherence in what Jesus had to give. But it is inconceivable that a soul of his majestic capability did not have a coherent awareness of spiritual Truth.
So it perhaps lies with us to try to discern this, and it is possible that the approach taken here may offer a way forward.
Written 4th April 2003