Gospel of Thomas: Thomas 16
Does Jesus Bring War?
Thomas 16: Jesus said, “Perhaps people think that I have come to cast peace upon the world. They do not know that I have come to cast conflicts upon the earth: fire, sword, war.
For there will be five in a house: there’ll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, and they will stand alone.”
A prophetic statement—Jesus warns of the political divisions His presence and message would bring. First, we see this happen among the Jewish followers of Jesus, who tried to exclude gentiles, then we see it in the Christian Crusades against Islam, followed by the Protestant divisions and conflicts. Their lineage is from one heritage, linked by the biblical character of Abraham, yet within their own family they are divided and have caused bloodshed.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are referred to as Abrahamic religions because of the founding position Abraham plays in their holy texts. Abraham is considered the father of the people of Israel. Jews and Christians have this lineage through Abraham’s son Isaac, by his wife Sarah. For the Muslims, it is by Sarah’s servant, Hagar. The biblical character of Abraham, who is based on legend, is claimed to be the tenth generation from Noah and the twentieth from the first human—Adam.
Within the Arabic community, some six hundred years after Yeshua, the opportunity arose for a very prescriptive faith. This faith was built on the premise of obedience to God. The underlying edict was derived from the story of Abraham. In Genesis 22:1-18, Abraham is willing to sacrifice his only son to demonstrate his obedience and faith. After showing his willingness to sacrifice his son, Abraham is promised that the generations coming from him will prosper and be in God’s favour. The Islamic text took this premise and formed practices demonstrating faith and obedience.
Islam reinterpreted the Old and New Testament narratives and gave specific directions on every aspect of life. People could follow a set of guidelines, outlining how to conduct oneself within the community and how to worship God, in order to remain in God’s favour. The in-house conflict in the Christian groups (and their lack of such specific directions on day-to-day life), made Islam an attractive option for other cultures. Jesus is given a peripheral role throughout the Islamic text. Interestingly, the tone when referring to the beliefs Christians had about Jesus becomes progressively negative.
The esoteric nature of the Islamic text is appealing. It attempts to bring people closer to their god, but for critical thinkers its emphasis on fear (of God) and obedience is an obstacle toward this objective. For this reason we have seen divisions within Islam—some factions adhere to the literal interpretation, others have a more esoteric reading of the text, such as in Sufism. The popularity of Islam comes from its promise of an intimate relationship with the God of Abraham, achieved by following strict dietary laws and daily prayer obligations. This devotion to the spiritual is admirable, as it reflects what Jesus desires for us. However, rituals and practices can become a trap, as they are prone to losing their true significance. The inherent problem with the Abrahamic religions is that they place god outside of the self. Humans simply become God’s creation, not an intrinsic part of what God is. The intimate connection people should seek is in the realisation that we are Its offspring, we are as Yeshua is. When people place a god outside of the self they make it easy to use this God for their own purpose. This manipulation is often driven by lust for power and control over others (Thomas 7). Sadly, we have seen these fundamentalist approaches take on a barbaric face, one that echoes the Christian Crusades in the Middle Ages. We should take an approach similar to how one bows to a stranger. In this act, we recognise their soul, which is linked to ours. ‘God’ is not one entity, nor is ‘He’ three persons yet one god. God, the Father, is the Source of all things; the Son is representative of all the beings throughout the universe, who aggregate the Father’s Light. The Holy Spirit joins them so that the one becomes two.
It was not long after the three Abrahamic religions formed, that conflict between Jewish, Christian, and Islamic groups occurred, resulting in bloodshed. As we see in the prophetic statement of Thomas 16, they had the same lineage, which they all recognised and accepted. Yeshua’s warning, ‘…there will be five in a house: there’ll be three against two and two against three, father against son and son against father’, is truly poignant. The true Creator does not recognise people of hatred and division: ‘they will stand alone.’ After all, the nature of worldly power is that of the lion (Thomas 7), unlike the Lamb, whose nature is that of the Spirit. In this world the lion will always devour the lamb, as was shown to us by Yeshua in the crucifixion of the flesh, which housed the Light of God/Source. This is a metaphor for the behaviour of those who lead people into battle in the name of their God, they stand alone, with blood on their hands. They have given in to their desires for power and control—just as those who put Jesus’ physical body to death.
Jesus came to correct perceptions stemming from the Old Testament, which harmed the potential relationship between God/Source and Its offspring. This is why we must remove ourselves from literal interpretations of culturally/politically-influenced texts when we are seeking the truth of our existence. These useful sources are found by engaging with our logical and intuitive self. This wisdom is revealed here in the Gospel of Thomas, supported by aspects of the Synoptic Gospels. Those aspects, which do not attempt to link Yeshua with the Old Testament, are of value to our growth and union with God/Source. The contentious statement we see in Thomas 15, followed by the warning in Thomas 16, reinforces the disparity between Jesus’ teachings and what we see in the Old Testament.
Yeshua sensed that the time in which He was clothed in flesh was not one that could accept or understand His profound messages; therefore, it was necessary to be cryptic. If Jesus were truly the one who brings war (with intent), then He could have easily led His contemporaries in creating a Christian empire. Instead, Jesus showed humans His message was about the Spirit—not the body, not the piece of land or territory, and not unilateral religious control. We should ask ourselves: would someone who sacrificed Himself for all people desire war and destruction? These terrible events in our history have, at times, been brought about in God’s name by those consumed by the lion we see in Thomas 7. The only war Jesus creates is one causing a separation from the belief in a god that has human characteristics. This is the god born of a primal heritage, when humans were creatures in need of a patriarchal figure, to protect them from natural disasters they thought were inflicted upon them.
Yeshua could see His contemporaries would not understand these contentious messages (regarding God’s Kingdom being within us). He knew that charismatic individuals would take His words to justify fire, sword, and war. In 312 CE, Constantine claimed to have won the Battle at Milvian because he had a vision. He maintained Jesus instructed him to place His sign on the soldiers’ shields—in doing so, Constantine would be assured victory. Yeshua would not have been concerned with worldly power and conflicts. These conflicts reflect the lion which has devoured fallible men, but the lion will continue to present as human (Thomas 7). We should ask: would Jesus suggest placing His sign on a flag, condoning killing in His name? Paradoxically, in 325, Constantine made it possible for the Nicene Creed, a statement of the essential beliefs of orthodox Christianity, to be written. Constantine’s aim was to unify the Christian groups, which were under the leadership of various bishops. The disunity stemmed, in part, from theological differences regarding the belief in Jesus. They argued between Jesus being of the same substance as God or being made by God. Significant historians view Constantine’s motive as political, not theological. Neglecting to understand the real meaning of the words in Thomas 16, we see how important it is not to look at something in isolation. When all the sayings in Thomas are carefully analysed, in relation to each other, we cannot read Thomas 16 in such literal, provocative and dangerous terms.
The law of an ‘eye for an eye’, found in the Old Testament, was designed to balance the physical injustices inflicted within the Jewish community. It extended to any part of the body and meant that if a person was physically harmed, they had the right to retaliate with the same injury. The essence of this ‘law’ has been justification for payback of unjust and violent acts between cultures of the Abrahamic lineage. If we look to our logical and intuitive selves, and what Yeshua has taught us, then we see this law in a very different light. If we are to take someone’s eye out, in effect, what we have done is taken our own eye out. We are that person, connected in spirit. If we harm others, we harm ourselves and the spirit that flows between us. If people harm others, the lion (Thomas 7) has consumed them. This is the nature of the physical world, which has chaos, fear, and aggression at its heart. These things are at odds with the nature of the Spirit.
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