Tag Archives: Thomas

So, Whatever Happened to Thomas?

Traditions about Thomas

Who was Thomas’ Twin?

The name Thomas is the Aramaic word for “twin,” and John informs us that he was “called Didymus,” which also means “twin.”  Thus, this was his nickname as well.  Guy N. Woods says, “It seems most likely that Thomas had a twin brother or sister; how else may his name be accounted for; but, there is no mention of either in the sacred writings.”1  But that hasn’t stopped people from making guesses.

One tradition is that he had a twin sister named Lysia, while another tradition says he was the twin brother of Jesus Himself, and is to be identified as Jude2 (there is a lot of extra-biblical evidence to suggest his name was Judas Thomas). 3 Another tradition is that his twin brother was named Eliezer.4

The “Gospel of Thomas”

There are two different writings with this title.  One of them makes up stories about Jesus as a youth, such as these:

Jesus, when five years old, was playing in the fjord of a mountain stream; and He collected the flowing waters into pools, and made them clear immediately, and by a word alone He made them obey Him.  And having made some soft clay, He fashioned out of it twelve sparrows.  And it was the Sabbath when He did these things.  And there were also many other children playing with Him.  And a certain Jew, seeing what Jesus was doing, playing on the Sabbath, went off immediately, and said to His father Joseph: “Behold, your son is at the stream, and has taken clay, and made of it twelve birds, and has profaned the Sabbath.”  And Joseph, coming to the place and seeing, cried out to Him, saying, “Why are you doing on the Sabbath what it is not lawful to do?”  And Jesus clapped His hands, and cried out to the sparrows, and said to them, “Off you go!”  And the sparrows flew, and went off crying…

And the son of Annas the scribe was standing there with Joseph; and he took a willow branch, and let out the water which Jesus had collected.  And Jesus, seeing what was done, was angry, and said to him, “O wicked, impious, and foolish!  What harm did the pools and the waters do to you?  Behold, even now you shall be dried up like a tree, and you will not bring forth either leaves, or root, or fruit.”  And immediately that boy was dried up.  And Jesus departed and went to Joseph’s house.  But the parents of the boy that had been dried up took him up, bewailing his youth, and brought him to Joseph, and reproached him because, they said, “You have such a child doing these things.”

After that, He was again passing through the village; and a boy ran up against Him, and struck His shoulder.  And Jesus was angry, and said to him, “You shall not go back the way you came.”  And immediately he fell down dead. … The parents of the dead boy went to Joseph, and blamed him, saying, “Since you have such a child, it is impossible for you to live with us in the village; or else teach Him to bless, and not to curse, for He is killing our children.”5

This work, usually referred to as The Gospel According to Thomas, was a favorite among the Naasseni, a second-century Gnostic sect. 6

Another work, titled The Gospel of Thomas is a collection of 114 sayings attributed to Jesus which was discovered in the Nag Hammadi Library.  About half of the sayings are similar to things found in the true gospel accounts, while the others seem to have a Gnostic origin/slant to them.

“Acts of Thomas”

This work, which some experts date to the first century, was held in high esteem among some of the heretical groups.7  “The main heresy which it contained was that the apostle Thomas baptized, not with water, but with oil only.”8  This work may be the origin of the tradition that Thomas evangelized in India.

The story begins with the apostles gathered together to assign regions of missionary work.  Thomas got stuck with India, and wasn’t happy about it.  He complained, then prayed, saying, “Wherever You wish to send me, send me elsewhere; for I am not going to the Indians.”

So, Jesus appears and finds a traveling Indian merchant who is looking for a carpenter, then tells him, “I have a slave, a carpenter, and I wish to sell him.”  And He points to Thomas at a distance, and then writes out a bill of sale that says, “I, Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, declare that I have sold my slave, Judas by name, to you Abbanes, and merchant of Gundaphoros, the king of the Indians.”  Then Jesus went to Thomas and began walking with him to Abbanes.  The Indian merchant asked Thomas, “Is this your master?”  Thomas said, “Yes.”  The Indian says, “I have bought you from him.”  And Thomas was silent.

They go to a wedding feast in India where Thomas is hit on the head by a wine-pourer for using too much perfume, then Thomas prophesies that the man will be forgiven for this action in the world to come, but on the earth, he was going to be killed.  Thomas then sings a song in Hebrew (so no one there understands), and a lion kills the wine-pourer.

Later, Jesus appears to the groom, who thinks He is Thomas, for they looked identical.9  The wedded couple is converted to the Lord, which greatly upsets the king of India, and he demands Thomas be arrested.  But Thomas had already sailed away to other parts of India.

Some time afterwards, the merchant who had bought Thomas went to see the king because the king wanted a new palace built.  He hired Thomas to build it, and provided him with money to buy materials and to pay the workers.  Several months later, Thomas sends him a message that the temple is done.  So the king comes to the city, and asks where the temple is, and the people told him, “He has neither built a palace nor done anything else of what he promised to do; but he goes around the cities and districts, and if he has anything, he gives all to the poor and teaches that there is one God, and heals the diseased and drives out demons…”  So the king tracks down Thomas and asks him directly, “Have you built me a palace?”  And Thomas replies, “Yes, I built it.”  The King says, “When, then, are we to go and see it?”  Thomas’ reply is, “You can’t see it now; but when you have departed this life, then you will see it.”  So Thomas and the merchant are thrown into jail while the king decides how he wants to kill them.

But, in the night, the king’s brother dies, is taken to heaven, and sees the palace that was built in heaven for his brother, and demands to be taken back to the land of the living so he can buy it from the king.  The king, seeing his brother come back from the dead believes about the heavenly palace, and frees Thomas and follows him.10

Other Traditions about Thomas

A work attributed to Clement of Rome states that Thomas argued before Caiaphas that what Jesus taught was exactly what the Old Testament prophets believed.11  Later, the same writer said that seven years after the Lord’s ascension, Thomas was preaching to the Parthians.12

Clement of Alexandria seems to argue that Thomas did not die a martyr’s death.13  But Hippolytus says:

Thomas preached to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, Hyrcanians, Bactrians, and Margians, and was thrust through in the four members of his body with pine spears at Calamene, the city of India, and was buried there.14

This story about his death is also recorded in Consummation of Thomas the Apostle.15

The Christians of St. Thomas

In India, in the 1500s, Portuguese sailors landed and discovered a group who called themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.”  This group taught the necessity of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and were governed by elders.  The rejected the authority of the pope, and rejected celibacy for their ministers.  They rejected praying to saints, and rejected images.  As a result, they came under heavy persecution from the Catholics, including torture and death.  Well over half of the Christians of St. Thomas finally accepted Catholicism.16

But their existence does seem to give some validity to the missionary work of Thomas in India.

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, page 234.

2 McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 10, page 367.  Eusebius seems to make this connection as well, though he doesn’t say that this Judas is the brother of Jesus.  Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 13, paragraph 10.  The east Syrian (Mesopotamian) churches still identify Thomas with Jude, and call him the twin brother of Jesus.

3 In the apocryphal Acts of Thomas, he is called “Judas Thomas,” and the names are used of him interchangeably.  The Old Syriac translation of the New Testament reads “Judas Thomas” instead of “Judas, not Iscariot” in John 14:22.

4 See Homily II, Chapter 1, in the Pseudo-Clementine Literature section of The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 229.  It is possible that this is a different Thomas, but it is noteworthy that he is a twin and accompanies Peter and Zacchaeus.

5 The Gospel of Thomas, first Greek form, 2-4.  See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 395.

6 This quote is given by Hippolytus in The Refutation of All Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 2.  See Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, page 50.

7 There is debate among scholars whether this was originally written in Syriac, then translated to Greek, or if it was first in Greek, then in Syriac, and then back into Greek when the original Greek writing was lost.  It is highly doubtful that this book is to be dated any later than the middle second-century.

8 From Professor M.B. Riddle’s “Introductory Notice” to the Apocryphal Acts in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 357.

9 If this were true, it would explain why the Jewish leaders needed Judas to identify Jesus.  They wouldn’t want to accidentally grab Thomas instead.

10 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, pages 535-549.

11 Recognitions of Clement, Book 1, Chapter 61.  See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 93.

12 Recognitions of Clement, Book 9, Chapter 29.  See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, page 189.  Origen agreed with this assessment, see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 1, Chapter 13.

13 Clement of Alexandria, Strata, or Miscellanies, 3.4.25.  Found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Page 385.

14 Hippolytus on the Twelve Apostles.  Where Each of Them Preacher, and Where He Met His End.  See The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, page 255.

15 This work is a sequel of sorts to Acts of Thomas, and many consider it to be part of the same writing.

16 This information comes from McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Vol. 10, page 368.

The Courageous Man of Doubt (part 2)

Doubting Thomas

The apostle had, just hours before Jesus’ death, proclaimed his willingness to die for Him before he’d ever deny him.1  But soon afterwards, he forsook Jesus, running away into the night.  The Sunday following, he heard rumors about the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus, but he didn’t believe them.  That evening, Thomas was noticeably absent from the gathering of Jesus’ disciples, and missed the appearance of the Lord in their midst.  Why he was absent isn’t given.  It could be something as simple and innocent as sickness, or, given what John records for us, it might be that he was dejected.  Perhaps he wouldn’t gather with them because Jesus is dead; it’s over.2

But soon after that meeting that he didn’t attend, the other apostles tracked him down and began to tell him an amazing story: Jesus is back; He appeared while you were gone!  Thomas wasn’t going to get his hopes up.  Surely he wanted to believe them, but he wasn’t going to believe something like that unless he saw it for himself.3  His answer to the other apostles was a strong one: “No, I will not believe unless I see the print of the nails in His hands, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and might thrust my hand into his ribs.”4

The next Lord’s Day, Thomas gathered together with the rest of the apostles, the doors being shut, when Jesus appeared in the middle of the room.  He approached Thomas and looked at him, and submitted to Thomas’ request for proof.  “Bring your finger here and behold my hands.  And bring your hand here and put it into my ribs, and do not become unbelieving, but believing.”5  Thomas wasn’t chastised verbally; Jesus didn’t ask him, “Why didn’t you believe the others?”  But you can almost guarantee that in the midst of his joy over seeing Jesus alive, he was also disappointed in himself for not believing.  But he didn’t let that keep him from accepting what he saw.6

Thomas went from doubt in the physical resurrection of Jesus to proclaiming Him as both Lord (Master) and God.  Seeing Him raised from the dead confirmed that Jesus indeed was the Christ, and that He also was God.7  This is not, as some wish to argue, Thomas calling Jesus “My Lord,” and then pausing, looking upward to heaven and saying to the Father, “My God.”  There is nothing in the text to justify such a splitting of Thomas’ statement.8

But, after Thomas’ statement, Jesus gives him a gentle reminder about the importance of faith and trust.  “Because you’ve seen me, you have believed; those who have not seen [me] and yet have believed are blessed.”  This is reminiscent of what is said in Mark 16:9-16:

Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons.  And she went and told them that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.  And they, when they had heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, did not believe.  After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked, and went into the country.  And they went and told it to the rest, but they didn’t believe them either.  Afterwards, He appeared to the eleven as they sat eating, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe them which had seen Him after He was risen.  And He said to them, “You go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  The one having believed and having been baptized shall be saved, but the one having not believed shall be damned.”

From that point forward, we have absolutely no indication that Thomas ever had doubt regarding Jesus again.

The final mention of Thomas comes in John 21, where the apostle joins with Peter in an unsuccessful evening of fishing, followed by Jesus telling them to fish on the right side of the boat.  The result was that they caught so many fish that they couldn’t lift them all up onto the boat.  Thomas helped row the boat to shore where Jesus Himself was fixing breakfast for them.  He ate the fish and bread, knowing he was eating with the Lord.9

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 Matthew 26:35

2 Barton W. Johnson said, “The failure of Thomas to be present with the other disciples was probably due to his utter despair” (The New Testament Commentary, Vol. III.—John, page 302).  Larry Deason, in his “That You May Have Life…” An In-Depth Study of the Gospel of John (pages 405-406) presents a plausible scenario:

Thomas earlier was so willing to follow Jesus into the dangers of Judea that he led all the rest (see John 11:16), but is now filled with a grief made worse by a sense of guilt; he had not made good his promise to die with Him.  “Why should he be dead and I still alive?” he asks himself.  And then he learns that they have seen Him alive—all but he.  They try to console him, but he cannot share their joy.  Day after day that week, one disciple after another tries to convince Thomas to believe.  “I believed once,” he says.  “I believed that He was the Messiah and would deliver the nation from all its woes.  But look where it got me.  Dashed hope is worse than no hope at all.”

One after another tries to describe for him in detail what he saw when Jesus appeared.  Finally, Thomas has had enough.  To curtail all further attempts to convince him, he shouts out in his frustration, “I will not believe unless I myself see His wounds.  Unless I myself actually feel the nail prints and put my hand into His side.”  The other disciples are shocked into silence, and Thomas is finally left alone to his guilt and grief.

3 Ted Clarke said of Thomas, “He deserves criticism because of this.  None of us today have seen the Lord, but we believe the testimony of the men who did see Him.  Thomas should have believed the combined testimony of the other apostles” (Preaching School Notes, 2008-2010, notes on John 20:24-29; Bradley Cobb, Editor).

4 The Greek of John 20:25 has Thomas using two negatives to express his refusal to believe without visual evidence.  See An Outline Commentary on John by Max Patterson, page 254.

5 John 20:27, Modern Literal Version.

6 It’s worth noting here that Thomas does not appear to have actually touched the nail-prints or thrust his hand into Jesus’ side.  Seeing Him there in front of him was enough to prove that Thomas had been wrong to doubt.

7 There are many Old Testament prophecies which point to the Christ being God, among which are Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7, Zechariah 12:10, etc.  Thus, Thomas had a much greater insight into the nature of Jesus and the Messiah than some people even today do.

8 There are examples of someone speaking and changing the person to whom he is talking.  Perhaps the most obvious one is Mark 2:8-11.  But in those cases, the change of audience is given to us in the text.  There is no such indication in John 20:28.  Funny enough, there is such a change in verses 26-27, where Jesus speaks to the apostles, then just to Thomas—and again, it is spelled out for us in the text.  Therefore, those who argue that Thomas’ words “My God” were addressed to the Father instead of Jesus have no basis for their argument except for the false doctrine which they are trying to defend, denying the deity of Jesus Christ.

9 John 21:1-14.

The Courageous Man of Doubt (Part 1)

Thomas holds the distinction of being the only apostle whose name is usually prefaced with an adjective: Doubting Thomas.  Of course, that phrase doesn’t appear in the Bible, but that’s how he’s frequently referred to in books, sermons, and other writings.

Like Bartholomew (aka Nathanael), the only details we know about Thomas, other than that he was an apostle, are found in John’s gospel account.

Courageous Thomas

The first mention of Thomas (whose name literally means “twin”)1 in John’s gospel account comes in chapter eleven.  Lazarus has just died, and Jesus tells His disciples (including Thomas), “Let’s return to Judea.”  The disciples were not thrilled with this idea at all, since the Jews had tried to kill Him the last time they were there.  But Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; I’m going to go wake him up.”  That definitely confused the apostles, and so Jesus told them, “Lazarus is dead.”

It’s after this statement of Jesus that the apostles know Jesus is going back to Judea, and Thomas tells his fellow-disciples, “Let’s go so we might die with Him.”  Though this expresses courage, extreme loyalty, and love for Jesus, it also shows a lack of understanding—some might even call it an expression of doubt.  He was saying, “Let’s go with Him, ready to die with Him if need be.”2  But Thomas didn’t understand that Jesus had something more planned for Him and the other apostles.  Thomas didn’t see the big picture that included Jesus arising from the grave (more on that later).  He saw this return to Judea, it seems, as the final stand in the life of a great Rabbi who was being rejected by the Jewish people.  But Thomas went with Him anyway.3

After arriving in Judea with Jesus, Thomas would have heard the mournful cries of Mary and Martha who each told Jesus, “If you would have been here, our brother wouldn’t have died!”  With the idea of death and dying on his mind, Thomas might have felt sadness and been resigned to his own (so he thought) impending death.  Certainly, he would have been curious when Jesus replied with the words, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one believing in me, though he were dead, yet he shall live.  And the one living and believing in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”4  Thomas might have been thinking, I’m alive, and I believe in Jesus…maybe I won’t die after all.

Then, Thomas was present when Jesus prayed to the Father, saying that His prayer was so that the people might believe.  Thomas then heard Jesus utter the words, “Lazarus, come forth!” and he watched as Lazarus came out, alive.  He witnessed the power of Jesus to raise the dead after four days.5  It should have served as proof that Jesus could rise from the dead after just three days, yet Thomas doubted.

Confused Thomas

After the Lord’s Supper was instituted, and Judas left to betray Jesus, the Lord began to tell the apostles that His time was almost up.6  He told them that He was going to go, and that they would not be able to follow Him right then.  Peter expressed confusion, saying, “Where are you going?”  After Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for His followers, and that they knew the way, Thomas expressed confusion as well.  “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?”7

From this, we get an insight into Thomas’ character.  Just like Peter, he had a difficult time grasping the concept that Jesus would be raised from the dead after his death.  He was fiercely loyal to Jesus, ready to die with him, but he was stuck on thinking in mortal terms.

Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me.”  Whether Thomas understood what Jesus meant at this point isn’t stated by John.  But lest anyone wants to bad-mouth Thomas for his lack of understanding, take special note that Thomas was just one of three apostles who expressed their confusion in this instance (Philip being the third).8

-Bradley S. Cobb

1 John says he is called “Didymus,” which is the Greek word for “twin.”  Several theories exist as to the importance of this name.  Some assume it means he is a twin brother of one of the apostles, others that he is the twin brother of Jesus, others that he had a twin sister, and so on and so forth.  More will be said on this matter in the “traditions” section of this chapter.

2 Thomas speaks in the subjunctive mood when he says this, showing a possibility.  Thus, we might die with Him.

3 The text of John 11:16 could also be read as though Thomas is speaking about Lazarus: Let’s go so we might die with Lazarus.  While grammatically this makes sense, it doesn’t make any logical sense.  Can you truly picture Thomas telling the other apostles, “Let’s go to Judea so we can die with Lazarus”?  See E.W. Hengstenberg’s discussion on this passage for a fuller discussion on who Thomas was willing to die with.

4 John 11:25-26.

5 John 11:41-45.

6 See John 13:26-33, especially note verse 33 and the phrase “yet a little while I am with you.”

7 John 14:1-5, especially verse 5.

8 See John 14:7-12.