The “Gospel of Thomas” and Sensus Plenior
Tom Saunders

“Sensus Plenior” means fuller sense, or fuller meaning, and particularly refers to the deeper meaning contained in religious scripture. The term can refer to both intended meaning by the author or additional meaning beyond the indented scope of the author. The intended use of scripture in the case of the “Gospel of Thomas” may be to create the basis for individual revelation, and even gnostic transcendence.

Most modern “Gospel of Thomas” scholars are not experts in Sethian and Valentinian Gnosticism. Most still grasp onto the idea that Thomas is aligned with the sensus plenior of the biblical synoptic gospels. In fact Sethian and Valentinian philosophy requires a specialized vocabulary most Thomas scholars do not use in their analysis of the text. Sethianism is based upon Aeonology.

I take the stand that the sensus plenior of Thomas is based upon Sethian and Valentinian Gnostic theology. This means the underlying philosophy of the “Gospel of Thomas” is based upon the concept of Jesus as a living spirit with the power of Archons and Aeons. Archons and Aeons are central to understanding the Nag Hammadi Library and other Sethian-Valentinian writings.

The Sethian and Valentinian Aeonology is based upon the Pythagorean mathematical concepts of the Monad, and the Monadic sequence. The system is almost identical to Ba Gua science used in the study of the Tai Chi. An eight unit ba gua sequence and an eight unit Aeon called an ogdoad, are virtually the same instrument. (See Fung Yu-Lan, “History of Chinese Philosophy”)

There is almost nothing written on the Sethian Aeonology to explain the whole occult system. Nag Hammadi texts only mention Aeons, Archons, and Monads, they do not really explain the system.
The secrecy of Pythagoreans and this system has been well preserved, as Sethians were the first to write about Aeons.

The sensus plenior of the “Gospel of Thomas” is aligned with the concept of the title in the text, “The Secret Sayings of the Living Jesus.” The text is meant to be occult. It was written so if you do not know about Aeons, you will not connect this epistemology to Thomas.

To understand the words of Jesus requires you know the Sethian philosophy behind them. Otherwise you are left to your own interpretation from what you know about Christianity. I see this as a major reason the “Secret Sayings” are secret and have stayed secret. The Thomas text does not use Sethian specific vocabulary found in the Aeonology and Monadology that are unique to the Nag Hammadi texts. But many of the concepts in the text are Sethian and Valentinian oriented.

Another term used to express sensus plenoir of Sethian-Valentinian scripture is “ruha.”

Ruha: A Mandaean and Sethian-Naasseni Gnostic concept of Spirit, an equivalent of Sophia (wisdom), sometimes used to mean the Soul. The term ‘ruha’ is sometimes used to refer to receiving the blessings of the Holy Spirit through the reading of scripture. In the Mandaean creation myths Ruha is the is a divine being who falls from grace, she marries her son Ur, and they create the seven planets, and the twelve signs of the zodiac. (SGG, “Saunders Gnostic Glossaries.” See also, “A Dictionary of Gnosticism” by Smith)

According to Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Tertullian, Naasseni-Mandaeans or Sethians were the same people and the first followers of Jesus. This is in spite of anti-Gnostic declarations that these followers were heretics like Simon Magus. Hippolytus claims that Sethians had the “Gospel of Thomas,” and the “Gospel of the Egyptians.” (See “Gnostic Secrets of the Naassenes” Gaffney)

Irenaeus provides a description of Sethian specific vocabulary that is only found in the “Apocryphon (Secret Book) of John.” These texts would have been the first real Christian scripture. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies)

Ruha or sensus plenoir in the case of occult and metaphysical literature of the NHL should be seen as an instrument and utility for transcendence for enlightenment. In the case of Sethian and Valentinian philosophy transcendence or enlightenment is the process of Gnosis. In the case of Gnostic Christian enlightenment this would not be possible unless you know what Jesus said. This is the obvious purpose of the “Gospel of Thomas,” it very likely contains what Sethians that actually knew Jesus, remembered about what he said.

Explaining the secret Christianity of Sethian and Valentinian occult philosophy is a lot about being able to explain the Pythagorean mathematics of Aeons like the seven unit Hebdomad, and eight unit Ogdoad. Aeon emanations are “gifts” from the Pleroma. The Pleroma in the “Gospel of Thomas” is the kingdom of heaven. The Pleroma is also the polar opposite of the Kenoma…

Kenoma: The earthly or hylic state of the being. In the Gnostic schema(s) the kenoma is the imperfect and the antithesis of pleroma (plhrwma), where all are in a state of privation and unreality. The term is not used directly in Sethian or Valentinian texts but was used by anti-Gnostics (See Iren. Haer. I.4.I (M.7.480A); ib 1.4.2 (484A); Clem.exc.Thdot.31 (p117.11; M.9.676A); Thdt.haer.I.7 (4.298). (SGG, Source: Wade DeConick)

The concepts of Man’s existence and creation in the universe, in Sethian terms, is very different from mainstream Christianity. Man is a hylic or earthly being that must transcend from the hylic to the psychic, then to the further enlightened or pneumatic. This is a transition from the physical being to the spiritual. As an instrument this seems to be the underlying purpose of the “Gospel of Thomas.”