Gospel of Thomas Saying 8

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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


(8) And he said: Man is like a wise fisherman who cast his net into the sea; he drew it up from the sea full of small fish; among them he found a large good fish, the wise fisherman; he threw all the small fish into the sea, he chose the large fish without difficulty. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!


(8) And he said, "What human beings resemble is an intelligent fisherman who, having cast his net into the sea, pulled the net up out of the sea full of little fish. The intelligent fisherman, upon finding among them a fine large fish, threw all the little fish back into the sea, choosing without any effort the big fish. Whoever has ears to hear should listen!"


8 [8]. Then he says: "A man is like a skilled fisherman who cast his net into the sea. He brought it up out of the sea full of little fishes, and among them the skilled fisherman found one that was big and excellent. He threw all the little fishes back into the sea; without hesitating he chose the big fish. He who was ears to hear, let him hear!"

Funk's Parallels

GThom 21:5, GThom 24:2, GThom 63:2, GThom 65:2, GThom 96:2, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35b, Matt 13:47-50, Matt 11:15, Matt 13:9, Matt 13:43, Mark 4:9, Mark 4:23, Aesop Fable 4, Philoxenas Homilies I.9, Rev 2:7a, Rev 2:11a, Rev 2:17a, Rev 3:6, Rev 3:13, Rev 3:22, Rev 13:9.

Visitor Comments

The world sea is full of small truths (fish, viewpoints) about God (Ultimate Reality). When you catch (are gifted with, discover) a larger more comprehensive truth which allows you to see into the nature of the smaller truths as being part of the larger truth, abandon the small truths in favor of the encompassing greater truth.
- active-mystic

Mankind are the fish, many in quantity, only God will sift through the "catch" to find the deserving to bring to heaven.
- St. Mark

A Gospel according to Jesus would be a fine large fish indeed!
- Simon Magus

Perhaps the "small" fish are the fortunate ones and the "big" fish will wind up on the dinner plate.
- Taoito

The possibillities of this saying as an allegory are interesting, but it is also worth noting that Jesus was never above giving pragmatic as well as spiritual advice, and this parable could also be interpreted as a way to preserve the stock of fish, a very valuable resource.
- Ed

Note that the text is very explicit about the fisherman being a wise fisherman. So only the truly wise will have no trouble in descerning the truth among everything else, because only they know how to. Because a fisherman is chosen you might also want to think about the possibility that he became wise through fishing (experience).
- ajee

Our gifts in life are many, when the soul is found, keep it only.
- Ardele

If one knows what one is looking for then it shall be found easily.
- Wils

If we keep the reincarnation motif as told in 'Conversations With God' it makes a lot of sense to say that we (people) are the fish. On a practical level, we all have thoughts, ideas, and theories swimming around in our minds. It makes a lot of sense to throw back the little ones and let them grow.
- bromikl

Discernment, selectivity, are good. Learn how to know what is correct for you, an ability that has to be taught
- Thief37

Why would the fisherman keep the little fish? One day they will be big.
- david pasquinelli

To me this seems to say that man, endowed with the (easily abused) power to harvest his livelihood from nature also would be wise to treat that source of life with respect: by replacing the smaller fish, he encourages them to grow to full size, perhaps reproduce (surely a fish's sacred goal in life), and hopefully return to the net later - as larger fish.
- Aspirant

In fishing, cast forth your net and see what you catch. You will certainly catch many small fish, but in catching one (or two) large fish, you have all you need for a time and allow the small fish to grow to a size where they can provide for you in the future. (Speak to the masses, draw them in, but only those who are mature enough will understand and can be brought in to develop the understanding necessary for the faith to grow, and they can then nurture the smaller "fish" to the point where they can learn and understand.)
- StarChaser

This seems to go along with the "I will make you fishers of men" statement in the Bible. To be efficient in converting people to the truth, one should concentrate not only on who is receptive but who can make an impact and influence others below them. It's like the spiritual trickle down effect.
- booknapper

I think we're all correct but here's my take on the parable. You, myself, man in general casts nets out all the time. Sometimes we cast nets for love, jobs, and knowledge. Look at what NASA just did. That's a net for seeking knowledge. As we all know when we seek or cast a net out sometimes you don't get quite what you're looking for, i.e. you get little fish. But when you do find what you're looking for then, ahh, the big fish that sustains.
- losttraveler

The big fish is fully grown, able to coprehend the truths, to accept and understand the abstract, the smallers ones are set free in order to develop and and better their abilities. When they are prepared and able to accept the truth, they meet the wise fisherman.
- small fish

The cited commentaries ignore the acronym ICTHUS. Christ the big fish preferable to all other doctrines.

It seems interesting to me that some see the fisherman as man and some as God...why can't it be both? Is Jesus here telling us something of the nature of the higher reality in relation to humanity?
- Willows

Scholarly Quotes

Funk cites Aesop as follows: "A fisherman drew in the net which he had cast a short time before and, as luck would have it, it was full of all kinds of delectable fish. But the little ones fled to the bottom of the net and slipped out through its many meshes, whereas the big ones were caught and lay stretched out in the boat. / It's one way to be insured and out of trouble, to be small; but you will seldom see a man who enjoys great reputation and has the luck to evade all risks. (Perry, 1965: 9-10)" (New Gospel Parallels, v. 2, p. 110)

Funk refers to Philoxenas as follows: "Then one will see the fisherman cast his net into the sea of the world and fill it with fish, small and great. . . . At that time he will draw his net and bring it up to the shore of the sea, as he set it, and he will choose the good fish and will put them in his vessels, . . . and he will throw away the wicked ones into utter darkness, where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (IDB Supplement: 903a)" (New Gospel Parallels, v. 2, p. 110)

Ron Cameron refers to Herodotus, History 1.141: "Once, he [Cyrus] said, there was a flute-player who saw fishes in the sea and played upon his flute, thinking that so they would come out on to the land. Being disappointed of his hope, he took a net and gathered in and drew out a great multitude of the fishes; and seeing them leaping, 'You had best,' said he, 'cease from your dancing now; you would not come out and dance then, when I played to you.'" ("Parable and Interpretation in the Gospel of Thomas," Forum 2.2 [1986], p. 29)

Ron Cameron quotes a parallel in Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies "the kingdom of heaven is like a person who cast a net into the sea and, from the multitude of fish that were caught, chose the better." ("Parable and Interpretation in the Gospel of Thomas," Forum 2.2 [1986], p. 28)

John Dart writes: "One scholar, Claus-Hunno Hunzinger, says 'the Man' [in Guillaumont's translation] can be understood as a gnosticizing substitute for 'the kingdom of heaven.'" (The Laughing Savior, pp. 94-95)

Gerd Ludemann writes: "'Man' is a keyword link to 'man' in 7.1, 2. Instead of 'man', originally 'kingdom of the Father/God' probably stood in v. 1." (Jesus After 200 Years, p. 594)

Ron Cameron writes: "The opening words of The Fishnet ('the person [P.RWME] is like a wise fisherman') are striking, for the making of a comparison to a person is generally assumed to be anamolous in the parables of the Jesus tradition. It is the overwhelming consensus of scholarship that the reference to 'the person' in Thomas has supplanted the original, more familiar reference to 'the kingdom.' This is particularly the judgment of those who consider this 'person' a gnosticizing substitution for that 'kingdom.' Accordingly, 'the person' (frequently translated 'the man') who is said to be compared to a 'wise fisherman' in GThom 8.1 has been variously identified as (1) the 'Son of Man,' (2) the gnostic 'Primal Man' (ANQRWPOS), (3) the individual Gnostic, or (4) the gnostic Redeemer." ("Parable and Interpretation in the Gospel of Thomas," Forum 2.2 [1986])

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: "Thomas contains a parable about a 'wise fisherman' who threw away all the little fish he caught and kept only a large and good one (Saying 8/7); this may be contrasted with the parable of the Dragnet in Matthew 13:47-50, where good and bad fish are kept together until the end of the age." (Gnosticism & Early Christianity, pp. 188-189)

F. F. Bruce writes: "This, the first of many parables in the Gospel of Thomas, bears a superficial resemblance to the parable of the dragnet in Matthew 13.47-50,, but its point is closer to that of the parables of the treasure concealed in a field (Saying 109) and the pearl of great price (Saying 76), to gain which a man sells all that he has (Matthew 13.44-46). In this context the big fish is either the true Gnostic, whom Christ chooses above all others, or the true knowledge for which the Gnostic abandons everything else." (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, p. 115-116)

Robert M. Grant and David Noel Freedman write: "We should expect to read that 'the kingdom' is like a fisherman (cf., Sayings 20, 76, 93-95, 104, 106); but for Thomas, true, inner man is equivalent to the kingdom. Moreover, Thomas sharply modifies the meaning of the parable in Matthew 13:47-48, on which he relies for some details. There the kingdom is like the net which brings in fish of all sorts, good and bad alike (a very un-Gnostic notion!). Thomas tells of the 'experienced' fisherman who can select the best one of his catch (compare the 'sheep' of Saying 104). The parable ends with the admonition, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear'; Matthew uses a similar admonition twice in the chapter in which he tells the parable of the dragnet (13:9, 43). Like Matthew, Thomas wants to show that there is a hidden meaning in the parable (see Sayings 22, 25, 64, 66, 93). The maning is that only Gnostics are selected by Jesus or the Father, or that Gnostics select Christ." (The Secret Sayings of Jesus, pp. 126-127)

R. McL. Wilson writes: "By printing the opening words in the form 'The Man is like a wise fisherman,' the official translation inevitably suggests an association with the Gnostic Anthropos, in which case the parable would refer to the election of the Gnostic. He is the large and good fish which is selected while all the rest are thrown back into the sea. It is also possible, however, to interpret this story as a parable of the Gnostic, the fish in this case being gnosis and the parable constructed on the model of the synoptic parables of the pearl of great price and the hidden treasure, both of which also occur in Thomas, to teach that the Kingdom of God (or in Thomas gnosis) is of such supreme value as to be worth any sacrifice." (Studies in the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 40-41)

Helmut Koester writes: "One may wonder whether Thomas refers to the synoptic parable of Matt. 13:47-48 at all. There is an almost exact parallel to SAying 8 in the poetic version of the Aesopic fables by Babrius, who, in the first century A.D., dedicated his work to the son of King Alexander, whose tutor he was." (Trajectories through Early Christianity, p. 176)

Joachim Jeremias writes: "The catch varies. When the fisherman throws his casting-net into the shallow water by the bank, weighted with lead round the edge, it falls into the water like a bell. The net often remains empty several times running. A modern observer counted twenty to twenty-five fish in one catch. In the parable, when the fisherman drew his net to shore he found a great number of small fish in it, but among them one fine large fish. Although he might have hesitated about keeping a few of the small fish in his bag, yet in his joy over the CALLICQUS [Thus Clem. Alex., Strom., I, 16.3 with reference to our parable.] he cast aside all such hesitations and threw all the small fish back into the lake. Thus it is when a man is overwhelmed with joy over the glad Good News; all else becomes valueless compared with this surpassing value." (The Parables of Jesus, p. 201)

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Gospel of Thomas Saying 8

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