The Book of Thomas the Contender
Translated by John D. Turner
The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote
down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another.
The savior said, "Brother Thomas while you have time in the world, listen to me,
and I will reveal to you the things you have pondered in your mind.
"Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine
yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since
you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself. And I
know that you have understood, because you had already understood that I am the knowledge
of the truth. So while you accompany me, although you are uncomprehending, you have (in
fact) already come to know, and you will be called 'the one who knows himself'. For he who
has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time
already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all. So then, you, my brother Thomas,
have beheld what is obscure to men, that is, what they ignorantly stumble against."
Now Thomas said to the lord, "Therefore I beg you to tell me what I ask you before
your ascension, and when I hear from you about the hidden things, then I can speak about
them. And it is obvious to me that the truth is difficult to perform before men."
The savior answered, saying, "If the things that are visible to you are obscure to
you, how can you hear about the things that are not visible? If the deeds of the truth
that are visible in the world are difficult for you to perform, how indeed, then, shall
you perform those that pertain to the exalted height and to the pleroma which are not
visible? And how shall you be called 'laborers'? In this respect you are apprentices, and
have not yet received the height of perfection."
Now Thomas answered and said to the savior, "Tell us about these things that you
say are not visible, but are hidden from us."
The savior said, "All bodies [...] the beasts are begotten [...] it is evident
like [...] this, too, those that are above [...] things that are visible, but they are
visible in their own root, and it is their fruit that nourishes them. But these visible
bodies survive by devouring creatures similar to them with the result that the bodies
change. Now that which changes will decay and perish, and has no hope of life from then
on, since that body is bestial. So just as the body of the beasts perishes, so also will
these formations perish. Do they not derive from intercourse like that of the beasts? If
it, too derives from intercourse, how will it beget anything different from beasts? So,
therefore, you are babes until you become perfect."
And Thomas answered, "Therefore I say to you, lord, that those who speak about
things that are invisible and difficult to explain are like those who shoot their arrows
at a target at night. To be sure, they shoot their arrows as anyone would - since they
shoot at the target - but it is not visible. Yet when the light comes forth and hides the
darkness, then the work of each will appear. And you, our light, enlighten, O lord."
Jesus said, "It is in light that light exists."
Thomas, spoke, saying, "Lord, why does this visible light that shines on behalf of
men rise and set?"
The savior said, "O blessed Thomas, of course this visible light shines on your
behalf - not in order that you remain here, but rather that you might come forth - and
whenever all the elect abandon bestiality, then this light will withdraw up to its
essence, and its essence will welcome it, since it is a good servant."
Then the savior continued and said, "O unsearchable love of the light! O
bitterness of the fire that blazes in the bodies of men and in their marrow, kindling in
them night and day, and burning the limbs of men and making their minds become drunk and
their souls become deranged [...] them within males and females [...] night and moving
them, [...] secretly and visibly. For the males move [...] upon the females and the
females upon the males. Therefore it is said, "Everyone who seeks the truth from true
wisdom will make himself wings so as to fly, fleeing the lust that scorches the spirits of
men." And he will make himself wings to flee every visible spirit."
And Thomas answered, saying, "Lord, this is exactly what I am asking you about,
since I have understood that you are the one who is beneficial to us, as you say."
Again the savior answered and said, "Therefore it is necessary for us to speak to
you, since this is the doctrine of the perfect. If, now, you desire to become perfect, you
shall observe these things; if not, your name is 'Ignorant', since it is impossible for an
intelligent man to dwell with a fool, for the intelligent man is perfect in all wisdom. To
the fool, however, the good and bad are the same - indeed the wise man will be nourished
by the truth and (Ps. 1:3) "will be like a tree growing by the meandering
stream" - seeing that there are some who, although having wings, rush upon the
visible things, things that are far from the truth. For that which guides them, the fire,
will give them an illusion of truth, and will shine on them with a perishable beauty, and
it will imprison them in a dark sweetness and captivate them with fragrant pleasure. And
it will blind them with insatiable lust and burn their souls and become for them like a
stake stuck in their heart which they can never dislodge. And like a bit in the mouth, it
leads them according to its own desire. And it has fettered them with its chains and bound
all their limbs with the bitterness of the bondage of lust for those visible things that
will decay and change and swerve by impulse. They have always been attracted downwards; as
they are killed, they are assimilated to all the beasts of the perishable realm."
Thomas answered and said, "It is obvious and has been said, 'Many are [...] those
who do not know [...] soul.'"
And the savior answered, saying, "Blessed is the wise man who sought after the
truth, and when he found it, he rested upon it forever and was unafraid of those who
wanted to disturb him."
Thomas answered and said, "It is beneficial for us, lord, to rest among our
The savior said, "Yes, it is useful. And it is good for you, since things visible
among men will dissolve - for the vessel of their flesh will dissolve, and when it is
brought to naught it will come to be among visible things, among things that are seen. And
then the fire which they see gives them pain on account of love for the faith they
formerly possessed. They will be gathered back to that which is visible. Moreover, those
who have sight among things that are not visible, without the first love they will perish
in the concern for this life and the scorching of the fire. Only a little while longer,
and that which is visible will dissolve; then shapeless shades will emerge, and in the
midst of tombs they will forever dwell upon the corpses in pain and corruption of
Thomas answered and said, "What have we to say in the face of these things? What
shall we say to blind men? What doctrine should we express to these miserable mortals who
say, "We came to do good and not curse," and yet claim, "Had we not been
begotten in the flesh, we would not have known iniquity"?"
The savior said, "Truly, as for those, do not esteem them as men, but regard them
as beasts, for just as beasts devour one another, so also men of this sort devour one
another. On the contrary, they are deprived of the kingdom since they love the sweetness
of the fire and are servants of death and rush to the works of corruption. They fulfill
the lust of their fathers. They will be thrown down to the abyss and be afflicted by the
torment of the bitterness of their evil nature. For they will be scourged so as to make
them rush backwards, whither they do not know, and they will recede from their limbs not
patiently, but with despair. And they rejoice over [...] madness and derangement [...]
They pursue this derangement without realizing their madness, thinking that they are wise.
They [...] their body [...] Their mind is directed to their own selves, for their thought
is occupied with their deeds. But it is the fire that will burn them."
And Thomas answered and said, "Lord, what will the one thrown down to them do? For
I am most anxious about them; many are those who fight them."
The savior answered and said, "What is your own opinion?"
Judas - the one called Thomas - said, "It is you, lord, whom it befits to speak,
and me to listen."
The savior replied, "Listen to what I am going to tell you and believe in the
truth. That which sows and that which is sown will dissolve in the fire - within the fire
and the water - and they will hide in tombs of darkness. And after a long time they shall
show forth the fruit of the evil trees, being punished, being slain in the mouth of beasts
and men at the instigation of the rains and winds and air and the light that shines
Thomas replied, "You have certainly persuaded us, lord. We realize in our heart,
and it is obvious, that this is so, and that your word is sufficient. But these words that
you speak to us are ridiculous and contemptible to the world since they are misunderstood.
So how can we go preach them, since we are not esteemed in the world?"
The savior answered and said, "Truly I tell you that he who will listen to your
word and turn away his face or sneer at it or smirk at these things, truly I tell you that
he will be handed over to the ruler above who rules over all the powers as their king, and
he will turn that one around and cast him from heaven down to the abyss, and he will be
imprisoned in a narrow dark place. Moreover, he can neither turn nor move on account of
the great depth of Tartaros and the heavy bitterness of Hades that is steadfast [...] them
to it [...] they will not forgive [...] pursue you. They will hand [...] over to [...]
angel Tartarouchos [...] fire pursuing them [...] fiery scourges that cast a shower of
sparks into the face of the one who is pursued. If he flees westward, he finds the fire.
If he turns southward, he finds it there as well. If he turns northward, the threat of
seething fire meets him again. Nor does he find the way to the east so as to flee there
and be saved, for he did not find it in the day he was in the body, so that he might find
it in the day of judgment."
Then the savior continued, saying, "Woe to you, godless ones, who have no hope,
who rely on things that will not happen!
"Woe to you who hope in the flesh and in the prison that will perish! How long
will you be oblivious? And how long will you suppose that the imperishables will perish
too? Your hope is set upon the world, and your god is this life! You are corrupting your
"Woe to you within the fire that burns in you, for it is insatiable!
"Woe to you because of the wheel that turns in your minds!
"Woe to you within the grip of the burning that is in you, for it will devour your
flesh openly and rend your souls secretly, and prepare you for your companions!
"Woe to you, captives, for you are bound in caverns! You laugh! In mad laughter
you rejoice! You neither realize your perdition, nor do you reflect on your circumstances,
nor have you understood that you dwell in darkness and death! On the contrary, you are
drunk with the fire and full of bitterness. Your mind is deranged on account of the
burning that is in you, and sweet to you are the poison and the blows of your enemies! And
the darkness rose for you like the light, for you surrendered your freedom for servitude!
You darkened your hearts and surrendered your thoughts to folly, and you filled your
thoughts with the smoke of the fire that is in you! And your light has hidden in the cloud
of [...] and the garment that is put upon you, you [...]. And you were seized by the hope
that does not exist. And whom is it you have believed? Do you not know that you all dwell
among those who that [...] you as though you [...]. You baptized your souls in the water
of darkness ! You walked by your own whims!
"Woe to you who dwell in error, heedless that the light of the sun which judges
and looks down upon the all will circle around all things so as to enslave the enemies.
You do not even notice the moon, how by night and day it looks down, looking at the bodies
of your slaughters!
"Woe to you who love intimacy with womankind and polluted intercourse with them!
Woe to you in the grip of the powers of your body, for they will afflict you! Woe to you
in the grip of the forces of the evil demons! Woe to you who beguile your limbs with fire!
Who is it that will rain a refreshing dew on you to extinguish the mass of fire from you
along with your burning? Who is it that will cause the sun to shine upon you to disperse
the darkness in you and hide the darkness and polluted water?
"The sun and the moon will give a fragrance to you together with the air and the
spirit and the earth and the water. For if the sun does not shine upon these bodies, they
will wither and perish just like weeds or grass. If the sun shines on them, they prevail
and choke the grapevine; but if the grapevine prevails and shades those weeds and all the
other brush growing alongside, and spreads and flourishes, it alone inherits the land in
which it grows; and every place it has shaded it dominates. And when it grows up, it
dominates all the land and is bountiful for its master, and it pleases him even more, for
he would have suffered great pains on account of these plants until he uprooted them. But
the grapevine alone removed them and choked them, and they died and became like the
Then Jesus continued and said to them, "Woe to you, for you did not receive the
doctrine, and those who are [...] will labor at preaching [...]. And you are rushing into
[...] will send them down [...] you kill them daily in order that they might rise from
"Blessed are you who have prior knowledge of the stumbling blocks and who flee
"Blessed are you who are reviled and not esteemed on account of the love their
lord has for them.
"Blessed are you who weep and are oppressed by those without hope, for you will be
released from every bondage.
"Watch and pray that you not come to be in the flesh, but rather that you come
forth from the bondage of the bitterness of this life. And as you pray, you will find
rest, for you have left behind the suffering and the disgrace. For when you come forth
from the sufferings and passions of the body, you will receive rest from the good one, and
you will reign with the king, you joined with him and he with you, from now on, for ever
and ever, Amen."
The Book of Thomas The Contender Writing To the Perfect
Remember me also, my brethren, in your prayers:
Peace to the saints and those who are spiritual.
Selection made from James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library,
revised edition. HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1990.