if you want to experience what he meant
saying- 3; the kingdom metaphor.
(latest update: 07-12-2018)
saying-3: the kingdom metaphor.
If those who lead you say, 'See, the kingdom is in the sky,'
then the birds of the sky will precede you.
If they say to you, 'It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you.
Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.
When you come to know yourselves (understand yourselves),
then you will become known (be understood),
and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father.
But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty
and it is you who are that poverty.
There is also a Pap. Oxyrh. version.
This saying does not belong to DeConick's kernel sayings (the second part being even later
than the first), but including it here allows some reflection on the concept
of the kingdom in Thomas at this stage. The second part is an explanation, about what
the kingdom is/is not, and merely therefore unlikely an authentic Jesus' saying.
The first part, however, is also in Luke 17:20–21, where Jesus says, “The kingdom of God does
not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom
of God is within you” (NKJV). I am not sure whether this ‘double attestation’ might serve as
an argument to consider the first part of the saying as authentic. The second part is most likely a
later, rather gnostic, addition. In any case, Perrin and Duling (1982) consider Luke 17:20-21
as an authentic Jesus saying. Crossan (1998) finds a closest parallel in Deuteronomy 30:11-14,
and is about the Law which is “…..not in heaven,….. nor in the sea,…no, the word is very
near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe”. Jesus might have
intended something similar concerning the nearness of the kingdom – it is just as near as
the OT demanded the Law to be. Whether Jesus meant to oppose the two by such phrasing,
remains for speculation.
The saying starts with an ironic twist towards spiritual teachers and leaders in general, and
whatever explanation they offer, they are mistaken. The kingdom is neither here nor there,
neither above nor below, neither now nor then; and although rather related to “what” and “how”,
it neither is, nor is not. The point here is that what is meant cannot be framed into a dualistic
perception of reality, so one better remains silent about it. The only escape to say something
is by using metaphor.
The term kingdom has traditionally been considered to serve the idea of an
eschatological expectation as it was generally present among the Jewish people in Jesus’ time,
but even more so following the destruction of the Hebrew Temple in 70 CE.
However, also citing others, Mack (2006) states: there was, in fact, no such thing as a
common perception about “the” messiah or “the” kingdom to come. He adds that the term
‘kingdom’ is absent in the canonical or apocalyptic writings, and does not appear in Jewish texts
of that time, with the exception of at least the evangelists . However, Mack
continues that on those occasions the term ‘kingdom’ lacks any eschatological meaning,
and concludes that the meaning of the term in the Jesus traditions is “far from clear”. However,
others would not agree with Mack, such as Perrin (1976) e.g., who stated that the
“Kingdom of God” was a symbol deeply rooted in the minds of Jesus’ contemporary Jewish
people; ancient Jewish literature spoke of “the kingship of God” (the Psalms e.g.) a myth common
to many peoples of the ancient Near East. But it was not a symbol with a clearly defined restricted meaning of one specific “thing”; it rather referred to the way people experienced the work of God in
their lives against the background of the idea that God cared for His people, and to God’s Covenant
by way of which He had promised to eventually redeem His people from their miseries. We should
realize that especially in the time of Jesus the quite loaded expectation was buzzing that this
Divine promise would be fulfilled soon. So, Jesus by way of his kingdom sayings and his parables,
which in fact refer to the kingdom (Perrin : “The Kingdom of God is the ultimate referent of all
parables of Jesus”), might have provoked common, collective, deeply psychologically
rooted religious sentiments in his hearers, but then by totally unexpected turnings in his
parable stories fundamentally disturbed their feelings of comfort with these fashionable
sentiments by giving them time and again a baffling twist. This must have upset his hearers, as
it totally disrupted their conventional way of thinking, challenging the convictions they held so
strongly and dearly about the Hebrew God and the way He works among them as a people and in
their lives as individuals, leaving them totally perplexed - thus is the power of metaphor! And
metaphor implicates that aiming at a fixed, “ultimately” true interpretation of the parable, is an
unrealistic endeavor. Perrin quotes Dodd (1935) who stated that Jesus’ kingdom sayings have no
parallel in Jewish teaching or prayers of the period, so they were quite a personal and unique
method of Jesus. Dodd also said that hearers of Jesus might have interpreted the sayings
referring “to the transient order beyond time and space”, a statement, Perrin remarks, was never
found convincing by other scholars. Dodd implied that the Patched Garment and The Old
Wine-skins parables meant to say that Jesus’ ministry cannot be accommodated to traditional
Judaism! Perrin agrees with Dodd in that the parables implied the presence of the Kingdom.
Discussing Jülicher, Perrin says: the parables as parables did not have a “message”. They tease
the mind into ever new perceptions of reality: they startle the imagination, they function like symbols
in that they “give rise to thought”. However, despite the fact that so much concerning “the kingdom”
has been written from academic theological perspectives, we should never forget that Jesus
addressed mainly the common people, and the subjects and themes Jesus used reflect that, or
as Perrin (1976) stated: “the parables of Jesus are pictures and stories drawn from petit-bourgeois
and peasant life in Palestine under the early Roman emperors”. So, despite all the academic
explanatory methods, modes and modules applied to Jesus sayings and his parables, we should
listen to them with rather naïve ears in the first place, lest their meaning should fully escape us!
According to Quispel (2004) the saying argues against the material perception of heaven
and hell; they are not somewhere out there, but in the soul. Maximus Confessor said:
" [it] does not refer to a temporal nearness..... Rather it refers to the nearness to it
possessed by those who are worthy in a disposition of relationship...." (Berthold,1985).
So, the kingdom is not the place where God lives, neither is it an apocalyptic realization at
the end of times, nor an eschatological realization of a new kingdom of Israel in the world
where God's rule, justice and purity abide. It is something rather personal, and in fact is not
“a thing” at all. The self-evidence that the kingdom sayings or parables, directly or indirectly,
have God as a referent as some presume (Via,1976), may seriously be questioned.
So, what then is it?
Meyers (2009) considers the kingdom as Jesus taught it as the right relationship with God,
not in the future, but in the "here and now", whereas in his parables "he sought to reverse human expectations of rewards and punishments....the rewards of faith would be intrinsic....".
Thomas' Jesus does not say in conventional language, but eventually we may interpreted the
term as a state of awareness one lives in; awareness regarding one’s inner self, but also
regarding the world around. These are not two different states, but one, and intricately winded
up with being human. A state in which one rules over the All. Maybe it was the ruling that
made Jesus use the term kingdom, but in any case, it seems that he used a common term but
only with the aim to lure his hearers into a direction he had in mind.
That is why in Thomas the kingdom is many times compared with a person in an actual,
quite possible situation or activity; the kingdom has to do with the human
predicament at a very fundamental level of existence. Perrin discussing Funk states: the realism
of the parables shows that man’s destiny is at stake in his ordinary existence ; “the everydayness
of the parables is translucent to the grounds of man’s existence” (Funk).
Jesus avoids being caught into the regular game of forcing to define things as
either X or its opposite. By such silence he actually underlines the pointlessness of defining
reality in conventional terms, but tries to open up our minds to a reality of a different kind.
The Buddha acted in a similar way; a stance which was later developed into the Buddhistic
philosophy of the Middle Way.
Breech (1983) suggested: Jesus re-interpreted the meaning of the kingdom in order to describe
that power which generated the being of persons who acted in freedom from tribal controls.
Jesus employs the language of the kingdom, but uses this language in a way that differs
explicitly from the usage of his contemporaries, predecessors and successors, whereas
he maintains a deafening silence with respect to these [ = apocalyptic, political, social]
expectations. Breech considered that Jesus referred to a power in which human beings
participate, a dimension of human experience, which comes upon individuals.
Spong (2002) quotes Bultmann who spoke about the Kingdom or realm of God as “a power
which although it is entirely future, wholly determines the present”.
In general, Jesus sought to reverse the hearer's normal expectation (Scott, 1981).
Thomas’ Jesus’ approach was similar to what the Buddha advised his followers:
to try and formulate the teaching in terms people could understand at their own level,
and alluding to similar ideas in their minds – making use of expedient means.
This Buddhist principle was most simply summed-up by the Zen master
Hui Hai (2007) when quoting a sutra in this respect:
ordinary people who cling to forms
must be taught in accordance with their capacities.
It is a kind of "mental Judo": take hold of someone's mind, and at the moment of certainty
about the familiar, the certainty is brought down, leaving the "opponent" in a state of
confusion and wonder. It is only from such experience that truths of a different order
than the usual may be perceived.
The Buddhist message was also "accommodated" to the popular mind; not the truth glimpsed
by the philosophic few, but as much of truth as it can comprehend (Streeter, 1932).
Streeter pointed at the difficulty the Christian=Greek mind has always had with such approach,
as it tried to understand reality, including things religious, in an intellectualistic or at least
philosophical way. Thomas' Jesus, just as the Buddha shunned such approach. ...for the matter
to be dealt with was one which baffled intellectualisation in terms of Greek philosophy
If you wonder how to seek the kingdom, then:
empty your mind from all priory held religious ideas and convictions,
even of the idea of a heaven in the sky where God remains in His Kingdom.
Otherwise you may miss the point completely.
Some explanation on "expedient means".
“Expedient means” refers to the skillfully adapted way the Buddha employed in expounding
his teachings in order to lead as many people as possible to enlightenment. This principle is
specifically explained in the Mahayana Lotus Sutra ( Watson, 1993). A basic element in it was
that the teachings were adapted according to the hearers’ capacity to understand:
The quality of the Buddha’s preaching
is like a rain of a single flavor,
but depending upon the nature of the living being,
the way in which it is received is not uniform,
just as the various plants and trees
each receive the moisture in a different manner.
So, the sutra says: And in accordance with what each is capable of hearing, he [the Buddha]
preaches the Dharma for them in an immeasurable variety of ways so that all of them are
delighted and are able to gain excellent benefits therefrom. And: the Buddha preaches the Dharma
[= the teachings] in accordance with what is appropriate, [so that] you can have faith in it, you
can accept it. And: When all the various living beings hear my Dharma, they receive it according
to their power….
So, the Sutra expresses that people differ in the way they perceive, experience
and assimilate the teachings, and that even the Buddha himself adapted his preaching to meet
such differences. In the Buddhist literature we may see how far the Buddha sometimes
stretched this principle in employing concepts and ideas his audience held, but on the veracity
of which he never wanted to talk, considering such talk utterly idle.
The Lotus Sutra also says: This Dharma is not something that can be understood through
pondering or analysis, which it likely held in common with Thomas Jesus’ teachings; it is
not contentious reasoning which may lead to acceptance of the teachings, but skillful
teaching by making use of “expedient means”.
It may seem far-fetched to relate the Buddha’s way of teaching to that of Thomas’ Jesus, but let
me point at some work that suggests that the approach was not at all something alien in early
In his paper Symbolic Eschatology and the Apocalypticism of Q , Kloppenborg
(1987) quoting Wilder (Amos N. Wilder, Eschatology and Ethics in the Teaching of Jesus. New
York/London: Harper & Bros., 1939; 39-40, 51, who says:…. when the purport of historical
phenomena exhausts statement in immediate and realistic terms, it can only be adequately conveyed by the imaginative terms of faith….) argues that in Q apocalyptic language
was employed to dramatize the importance of recognizing and responding to the process of
redemption which Jesus saw as moving to its climax…….because the symbolic
character of apocalyptic language could be turned to serve Q's particular aims. Such language
is used creatively to dramatize the transfiguration of the present: apocalyptic symbols lend their
force both negatively, by the subverting of confidence in the everydayness of existence, and
positively, by buttressing a vision of rich and empowered existence based on the instruction
of Jesus. And: ….Q takes over the images of judgment and catastrophic destruction and
redeploys other traditional apocalyptic topoi as corollary to its "antistructural" ethic. Based
on his interpretation Kloppenborg argues that Q is not primarily apocalyptic at all, although only
looking at the content of the texts he analyses, would suggest otherwise.
Smith (1990) in his chapter on the meaning of words quotes from HAA Kennedy’s St. Paul and
the Mystery Religions –London,1913. On the words Paul “borrowed” from the mystery cults
Kennedy says that an individual like Paul could not borrow without transforming, and Smith
concludes that where Paul uses mystic terminology, terms may occur, but they have been shorn
of their meaning……perhaps employed rhetorically, or – quote Kennedy, the words were as
little else than convenient channels of appeal to the popular interest.
Smith also quotes from the work of Nock AD (sources on pg. 68 of Smith), who stated :
Christian missionaries had to use the language of the time, and this language often had
religious connotations that were more or less living, and that a stray hearer might well regard
the new teaching as something not different in kind from the other religions of the time.
So, strongly appealing, familiar language was used not because of its content as it
was regular understood, but mainly because such content carried symbolic, appealing
overtones - or in our case: imaginative terms of faith, to speak with Wilder - which are
used to clarify something that cannot easily be made apprehensible in immediate and
realistic terms. The fact that early Jesus-followers and Paul made use of such means
does not argue against the possibility that Jesus himself did the same.
If he did, and I think he did, the interpretation of his Thomas’ sayings may be viewed from an
unexpected angle. However, it also allows us to recognize a general pattern in a number
of sayings, which, approached from a different perspective would remain rather puzzling.