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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

Who was Doubting Thomas or Saint Thomas the Apostle?



Thomas’s character is outlined in The Gospel According to John. His devotion to Jesus is clearly expressed in John 11:5–16: when Jesus planned to return to Judaea, the disciples warned him of the Jews’ animosity (“now seeking to stone you”), to which Thomas soon replied, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” At the Last Supper (John 14:1–7) Thomas could not comprehend what Jesus meant when he said, “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas’s question “How can we know the way?” caused Jesus to answer, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”


Perhaps the best-known event in his life is the one from which the phrase “doubting Thomas” developed. In John 20:19–29 he was not among those disciples to whom the risen Christ first appeared, and, when they told the incredulous Thomas, he requested physical proof of the Resurrection, fulfilled when Christ reappeared and specifically asked Thomas to touch his wounds. His sudden realization of truth (“My Lord and my God”) made Thomas the first person to explicitly acknowledge Jesus’ divinity.


Thomas is mentioned a total of eight times between the four gospels and Acts. Most of what we learn about him comes from the Gospel of John—the only book of the New Testament that gives him any specific role. Between that and a few reliable claims from the early church, here’s what we know.


The New Testament lists all Twelve apostles four times—Matthew 10:2–4, Mark 3:14–19, Luke 6:13–16, and Acts 1:13–16. While there are some variations in the order the apostles appear and even the names they went by, Thomas is listed in all of them. He’s also clearly one of the Twelve in the Gospel of John, though John never explicitly lists them all.

In three of the times Thomas is mentioned, the Bible notes that he was called didymos, a Greek word meaning “twin,” which was often used as a name. Unless your name is Thomas, it may surprise you to learn that the modern name “Thomas” comes from the Aramaic word tĕʾomâ, which means . . . twin.


Yup. The Apostle Thomas doesn’t even have an actual name in the Bible. Everyone literally just refers to him as “the twin.” Interestingly, tĕʾomâ is just a description in Aramaic—it doesn’t appear to be used as a name—but didymos was used as both a description and a name.


So, while your Bible says some version of “Thomas, called the Twin” in John 11:16, John 20:24, and John 21:2, a literal translation would say “the twin, called the Twin.”

This means Thomas was one of the people who was closest to Jesus, and that he spent about three years living with him, witnessing his miracles, and hearing his teachings. He saw numerous demonstrations of Jesus’ power—including his power to raise people from the dead—and he heard Jesus predict his resurrection, but he still didn’t believe Jesus was resurrected until he saw for himself.


St. Thomas was a Jew, called to be one of the twelve Apostles. He was a dedicated but impetuous follower of Christ. When Jesus said He was returning to Judea to visit his sick friend Lazarus, Thomas immediately exhorted the other Apostles to accompany him on the trip which involved certain danger and possible death because of the mounting hostility of the authorities.


At the Last Supper, when Christ told His Apostles that he was going to prepare a place for them to which they also might come because they knew both the place and the way, Thomas pleaded that they did not understand and received the beautiful assurance that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


But St. Thomas is best known for his role in verifying the Resurrection of his Master. Thomas’ unwillingness to believe that the other Apostles had seen their risen Lord on the first Easter Sunday merited for him the title of “doubting Thomas.” Eight days later, on Christ’s second apparition, Thomas was gently rebuked for his skepticism and furnished with the evidence he had demanded – seeing in Christ’s hands the point of the nails and putting his fingers in the place of the nails and his hand into His side. At this, St. Thomas became convinced of the truth of the Resurrection and exclaimed: “My Lord and My God,” thus making a public Profession of Faith in the Divinity of Jesus.


St. Thomas is also mentioned as being present at another Resurrection appearance of Jesus – at Lake Tiberias when a miraculous catch of fish occurred. This is all that we know about St. Thomas from the New Testament.


Tradition says that at the dispersal of the Apostles after Pentecost this saint was sent to evangelize the Parthians, Medes, and Persians; he ultimately reached India, carrying the Faith to the Malabar coast, which still boasts a large native population calling themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.”


His feast day is July 3rd, and he is the patron of architects.


Thomas’s subsequent history is uncertain. According to the 4th-century Ecclesiastical History of Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, he evangelized Parthia (modern Khorāsān). Later Christian tradition says Thomas extended his apostolate into India, where he is recognized as the founder of the Church of the Syrian Malabar Christians, or Christians of St. Thomas. In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, originally composed in Syriac, he allegedly visited the court of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophernes, who put him in charge of building a royal palace (he was reportedly a carpenter); he was imprisoned for spending on charity the money entrusted to him. The work records his martyrdom as having occurred under the king of Mylapore at Madras (now Chennai), where Santhome Cathedral, his traditional burial place, is located. His relics, however, supposedly were taken to the West and finally enshrined at Ortona, Italy.


In addition to the apocryphal works, other similar writings related or accredited to Thomas are the Gospel of Thomas (among the Coptic gnostic papyri found in 1945 in Upper Egypt), The Book of Thomas the Athlete, and Evangelium Joannis de obitu Mariae (“The Message of John Concerning the Death of Mary”).


Sources

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