There is a remarkable, albeit easy-to-miss clue in the Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said, “When you see one who was not born of woman, fall on your faces and worship. That one is your Father.”
One way to interpret Jesus’ statement is that he was talking about himself, referring to his own virgin birth.
This is an easy conclusion to come to, especially for modern Westerners brought up on a steady stream of Christmas nativity scenes.
However, there is an alternative to this being a reference to Jesus’ virgin birth; the alternative refers to the Paraclete that is described in the Gospel of John 14:16-18:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you
In other words, the evolving tradition, featured in the Gospel of Thomas, was that Jesus Christ’s followers will know the Paraclete because he would have had peculiar circumstances that surrounded his birth, perhaps being born of a virgin (or at least, not being born of a woman).
The Gospel of John suggests that this spirit will come after Jesus’ death; when read through this lens, the Gospel of Thomas implies the same thing.
An intriguing bit of subtext here is the implication that the Paraclete could not have been someone who lived in a community where everyone knew him; rather, he would have to be an outsider. After all, if everyone knows who your parents are, you can hardly claim your mother was a virgin; this fits quite well with the Gospel of John, where Jesus says “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him”.
The elephant in the room, which I feel inclined to address, is the issue of why a writer, many decades after Jesus supposedly lived, would construct such a blatant foreshadowing as the notion of the Paraclete. The most intuitive answer is that the writer was foreshadowing himself or someone he revered for subsequent leadership claims – claims which would have been met by increasing resistance from other competing community leaders.
Consider this implication in the context of Simon Magus’ monologue in Recognitions:
For before my mother Rachel and he came together, she, still a virgin, conceived me, while it was in my power to be either small or great, and to appear as a man among men
Observers note the strong Ebionite undertones in Recognitions, (at least) in part due to the hostility with which they treated the virgin birth – recall that, according to Irenaeus in Against Heresies i.26.2, the Ebionites rejected the virgin birth, and (like Cerinthus) believed the Christ descended onto the ordinary man Jesus. Recognitions was asserting Simon Magus claimed to be born from a virgin.
An early reader of Recognitions would have spotted this virgin birth nuance, recognized it as Simon’s claim to the Paraclete, and like-minded readers would have responded with hostility.
Here, if we decode this encryption, we find a possible connection between Simon Magus and Paul. The link is Simon Magus’ reference to his virgin mother, Rachel. In Genesis, Rachel is the wife of Jacob and mother to Benjamin (as in the Tribe of Benjamin). Compare Paul’s Philippians 3:4-5:
…If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin…
This puzzle is interesting in light of the earliest theologies which lacked the virgin birth. Why did the Gospels of Mark and John (and arguably the original Matthew) omit the virgin birth? These Gospels either omitted the virgin birth because they were not aware of it, or because they did not believe Christ was born of a virgin. Yet, if one dates the Gospel of Thomas early, contemporary with the earliest Synoptic Gospels, then what we have is a tradition that appears to be a forerunner to the virgin birth.
My speculation is that the virgin birth feature was almost always reserved for the Paraclete, rather than the first instance of Christ on Earth; however, the later merging of attributes of the original Christ and the Paraclete would have made sense to enough early practitioners that it became Orthodox – or perhaps there were enough Paraclete claimants that the original prophesy needed to be offloaded onto the original Christ so as to suppress these claims. My subsequent assumption is that it was original consumers of John’s Gospel, the Eastern Valentinians, who injected the virgin birth, perhaps in the first half of the 2nd century.
If one is inclined to believe that Simon Magus (Acts 8, etc) was a reworking (or perhaps the earlier tradition) of the Apostle Paul, then Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:7-8 becomes striking:
Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born [Greek term ektroma. Literally “one born of a miscarriage”] *
*Note: This passage in 1 Corin 15 could imply that Paul was aware of the Gospel of Thomas, because of saying 12:
The disciples said to Jesus: We know that you will depart from us; who is it who will be great over us? Jesus said to them: Wherever you have come, you will go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.
There have been many speculations about what Paul meant with regard to his abnormal birth in 1 Corin 15. Paul used the term ektroma, which can also mean one who had an untimely birth, or who was born by miscarriage. My suspicion is that early readers (and hearers) of 1 Corin 15 would have recognized that Paul was claiming that his abnormal birth implied he was the Paraclete, as the details surrounding his birth meant he was not technically born of a woman.
Like Paul’s reference to Christ’s revelation preceding him, the Gospel of Thomas cues its readers to be on the lookout for one not born from a woman, but tells his readers that, for now, they should go to James the Just, “for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist”.
This evolution of Christ, from first being a simple recipient of the Spirit to becoming the spawn of divine insemination, is analogous to the presumably later Eastern Valentinian view, which supposed Jesus Christ’s body was spiritual, and that he was born from Mary as through a pipe, never making contact with her. In other words, if we presume that Paul’s description of his birth was part of his argument for why he was the Paraclete, that would imply that attributes of the Paraclete in the Eastern Valentinian system were merged with attributes of Jesus Christ.
Paul also seems to make reference to the encapsulation of the Spirit (ie the Paraclete) in Galatians 4:4-6; the traditional assumption is that Paul is referring to Jesus here. Could he actually be referring to himself, and his inheritance of the Spirit?
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out,“Abba, Father.”
Interestingly, the term Paul uses which is traditionally translated as born in Galatians 4 is genomenon, which in other instances is translated to roughly mean having occurred as a phenomenon; there are no other instances where this term is translated as being born. In other words, Paul might have really been saying: “…God sent his Son, having occurred from a woman, occurring under the law”. He was specifically saying that God’s son was not born under normal circumstances.
Paul makes another reference to childbirth in Galatians 4:19:
My dear children, from whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.
Why should Paul have had childbirth pains at all? Do people usually recall the pains they suffered while being born the first time? Of course not.
There can be no doubt that Paul’s child birth theme in Galatians is a critical element of the role he is trying to play. What’s more, Paul’s childbirth reference is similar to the reference to the heavenly woman in Revelation 12, who was likewise suffering pains while giving birth to the messiah.
My speculation is that, to early Christians, there was a male Christ and a female Spirit in the sky, and those two entities sent out signals to people of the earth. The Queen of Heaven, who is the woman in Revelation 12, was the Spirit; it was her son, the Christ, who manifested on Earth for some of these Nasaraean (keeper/preserver/guardian) theologies. Other earlier (Nasaraean) theologies had the Queen of Heaven turning into a city, as in 2 Esdras 9-10; the woman’s son was Solomon’s temple – compare that to 1 Corin 3:16-17:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple
In other words, because Christ was in Paul’s followers, his followers were God’s temple, which was the Christ. Their community (you together) brought the Spirit into their midst.
Last Updated: 20170521