Gospel of Thomas Saying 53

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This Gospel of Thomas Commentary is part of the Gospel of Thomas page at Early Christian Writings.

Nag Hammadi Coptic Text

Gospel of Thomas Coptic Text


(53) His disciples said to him: Is circumcision useful or not? He said to them: If it were useful, their father would beget him from their mothers (already) circumcised. But the true circumcision in the Spirit has proved useful in every way.


(53) His disciples said to him, "Does circumcision help or does it not?" He said to them, "If it helped, people's fathers would beget them from their mothers already circumcized. But true circumcision in spirit has become very profitable."


58 [53]. His disciples said to him: "Is circumcision useful or not?" He said to them: "If it was useful, their father would beget them from their mother <already> circumcised. But <only> the true circumcision in the spirit gives all profit!"

Funk's Parallels

Rom 2:25-29, 1 Cor 7:17-19, Gal 6:16, Phil 3:3, Col 2:11-14.

Visitor Comments

How can it that those who purport to be the chosen ones deface the magnificence of God's creation? Is it their ignorance or arrogance? Would God choose the ignorant or arrogant?
- Angus

Here Jesus understands the innate self as pure.
- Rodney

The rejection of circumcision of the body is clear. The true question is what is the nature of the spiritual circumcision that is referred to? Perhaps it is the paring away of ignorance, false belief, socially based conventions and unsuitable and unuseful actions and intentions, thus leaving you with a spiritually advanced being. Sounds like a good bet to me.
- active mystic

Circumcision does not destroy the penis. But it improves performance and fosters hygiene & to that extent has minor value but it is a thing of the world, of the planetary body. When you have overcome the drives of your glands [sexual appettite] so that you use same instead of being used by it, then you have achieved admirable circumcision of the spirit. Sexual satisfaction is valid --- but not to be all-consuming!
- Thief37

Physical circumcision rids the body of what is unnecessary. Jesus simply seems to be saying to rid ourselves of what is unnecessary in our spiritual lives, perhaps arcane and meaningless traditions and rituals.
- Hoya

In rejecting prayer, charity, and circumcision, Jesus expresses that in one way he certainly has not come to fulfill law, but to transcend it. Nothing material and objective is anything but corrupt, and is a barrier to the Light.
- Bones

Scholarly Quotes

Marvin Meyer writes: "According to a Jewish tradition, a governor of Judea once commented to Rabbi Akiba, 'If he (that is, God) takes such pleasure in circumcision, why then does not a child come circumcised from his mother's womb?'" (The Gospel of Thomas: The Hidden Sayings of Jesus, pp. 90-91)

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: "Along with fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and dietary regulations, Thomas rejects circumcision, as most early Christians did. A singular argument perhaps from radical Hellenstic-Jewish sources, is advanced against it; it is unnatural (elsewhere Thomas does not appeal to the law of nature). What counts is true, spiritual circumcision (cf., Philippians 3:3)." (The Secret Sayings of Jesus, pp. 162-163)

R. McL. Wilson writes: "Grant and Freedman plausibly suggest that the argument in the reply may be drawn from radical Hellenistic-Jewish sources. Perhaps more important is the point made by Bauer, that if no such an authoritative word as this had been known Paul would never have had to contend against the Judaisers. As Bauer observes, the saying was probably understood by the Gnostics on the basis of Colossians ii. 11, where the true circumcision is linked with the stripping off of the body of flesh. A circumcision 'in Spirit not in letter' is mentioned in Romans ii. 29, and the question here assigned to the disciples is asked by Paul himself in Romans iii. 1 - but with a very different answer. Other passages to which reference may be made include Romans ii. 25, 1 Corinthians vii. 19, and Galatians vi. 15. This saying accordingly would appear to reflect the conditions of a period later than the time of Jesus, if indeed it is not a Gnostic invention." (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 104-105)

F. F. Bruce writes: "Literal circumcision is rejected, like literal fasting and other religious exercises (cf. Saying 6). What counts is the spiritual counterparts of these, the elements of true heart-religion. That spiritual circumcision was the important thing was emphasized even in Old Testament times (cf. Deuteronomy 10.16; Jeremiah 4.4); Paul speaks to the same effect in Romans 2.29; Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.11." (Jesus and Christian Origens Outside the New Testament, p. 134)

Gerd Ludemann writes: "Like Paul (Rom. 2.25-29; 1 Cor 7.7-19; Gal. 6.5; Phil. 3.3), this verse understands circumcision in the metaphorical sense and thus provides further argument againts the benefits of cricumcision. The negative attitude to circumcision in the Gospel of Thomas corresponds to that towards fasting, alsgiving and dietary regulations (cf. 6; 14; 104), and also to the Old Testament, as it was documented in the analysis of the preceding logion, Logion 52." (Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 616-617)

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Gospel of Thomas Saying 53

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