A last set of texts that may reflect Paul-Thomas parallels deal with the flesh/spirit, body/soul, external/internal dichotomy. There are a handful of places in both Thomas and Paul where this polarity appears. In at least three instances a plausible argument can be made for Thomas’s appropriation of Pauline language and imagery in a way that advances the argument that the authors of Thomas knew and modified Pauline formulations.
In Gos. Thom. 29 there is a reflection on how the ‘great wealth’ of the spirit has come to dwell in the ‘poverty’ of the human body. This is similar to Paul’s concept of the spirit residing in fragile jars of clay (2 Cor 4.7), though the link is admittedly weaker than the three parallels examined thus far. The two passages do not share a common vocabulary and evidence of editorial activity is missing. Still, the strong conceptual link exists and it may be that Paul has again influenced Thomas. There is not enough evidence to demonstrate that Thomas has used Paul (or vice versa), but in light of the conclusions offered in the previous three posts, I want to raise the suggestion in much the same way historical Jesus scholars use the ‘criterion of coherence’. The criterion of coherence states that what coheres with other established historical material is also likely to be historical. In the same way, material that coheres with established Pauline influences on the Gospel of Thomas may constitute evidence of further Pauline influence. We have already seen that the authors of the Gospel of Thomas radically reshaped several Pauline texts and, in the case of Rom 10.5-8, the final form in Thomas looks very different from the original Pauline form. Therefore, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this common theme found its way into Thomas through Pauline influence.
A second possible body/spirit parallel drawn from material in 2 Corinthians 4 is Gos. Thom. 70: ‘Jesus said, “If you bring forth what is within you, that which you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within will kill you’. The imagery here may be related to 2 Cor 4.16-18, where Paul utilizes the distinction between the external (ho exw hemon anthropos) and the internal (ho esw hemon) to make his point. There he speaks of wasting away outwardly while being renewed inwardly. The inward/outward distinction is similar here in both Paul and Thomas but the texts reach very different conclusions. Plisch also sees a potential connection between these texts. He writes:
Especially interesting in our context is 2 Cor 4:16-18, for, on the one hand the opposites there make clear what the inner self signifies, on the other, because it evidences how different the notion in Gos. Thom. 70 actually is. According to 2 Cor 4:16-18, the inner being—contrary to the exterior being—the part that shares in transcedence and eternity, is the core of the person (p. 169).
This parallel may represent another instance of Thomas borrowing Pauline language and imagery and using the material in a way different from Paul’s original intent.
A third example appears in Rom 7.13-25. There Paul writes at length about the war with sin going on inside his body as he longs for spiritual victory. In v. 24 he concludes the section with the woeful statement, ‘Wretched (talaipwron) man that I am! Who will rescue me from the body (ek tou swmatos) of this death?’ In Gos. Thom. 87 we read, ‘Wretched (ou talaiporon) is the body (pswma) that depends on a body (nouswma’). And wretched (outalaipwros) is the soul that depends on these two’. The shared vocabulary is undeniable and the contexts deal with similar reflections on the internal (soul/spirit) and the external (body). Again, there is not enough evidence here to constitute hard proof, but further investigation may show that Thomas was dependent upon Paul in ways we have not yet fully realized.
In the end, it does seem possible that several Thomasine texts that focus on the interior/exterior polarity drew from and changed Pauline texts. An awareness of the possible connection between these texts may offer future prospects for further investigation of the Paul-Thomas relationship.
Our next two posts will complete the series of reflections on the Pauline corpus and the Gospel of Thomas.