Thomas as Jesus’ Disciple
The Apostle Thomas, one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15), was probably one of Christian history’s famous sceptics who gave way to the term “Doubting Thomas.” He was, however, one of the very first to acknowledge the Lord’s divinity with his exclamation, “My Lord and my God!” when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20:28). Thomas stood out among all the disciples during Jesus’ short ministry because of his doubts and even after Jesus’s death, the apostle played a large role in shaping the Gnostic philosophy (if the Gnostic gospels attributed to him were, indeed, narrations of his life after Jesus’ ascension to heaven).
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His given names, Thomas (Aramaic) and Didymus (Greek), reflect the fusion of cultures in first century Judea—one dominated not only by Roman but also Greek and Jewish cultures. Both names mean “the Twin” (John 11:16; 20:24; 21:2), but it was unclear who his twin was or why he was given that name. He and the other disciples were with Jesus when news of Lazarus’ reached them (John 11:16). It was Thomas who asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” shortly before Jesus was arrested.
The Lord reappeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20:19-21), but doubting Thomas merited a special mention in the succeeding verses as he was not with them at that time. Jesus reappeared to him in John 20:24-29 and showed him his pierced hands as proof of his identity. He also had Thomas touch his wounded side and reassured the disciple that he, indeed, was resurrected. “Stop doubting and believe,” was the gentle admonition Jesus gave to Thomas.
Jesus reappeared to some of the disciples, including Thomas, by the Sea of Galilee days after his resurrection (John 21). Thomas was present in the gathering of the disciples in Acts 1, as well as during the appointment of Matthias as a replacement for Judas Iscariot. After this, Thomas virtually disappeared from Biblical history except in other historical records and Gnostic texts—most of which were unverifiable.
Acts of Thomas
The Acts of Thomas, written in its original form in Syriac, was a third-century apocryphal text that was not included in the New Testament. It seemed to start where the 1st chapter of Acts left off, right in the heart of Jerusalem with Thomas and the other disciples gathered in one place. They were on the verge of preaching the good news in other regions, and they drew lots to determine which region each one of them should go. Thomas got India and was initially reluctant to go to an unfamiliar territory, but Jesus reappeared to him one night to reassure the apostle of his presence. This, however, did not cure Thomas of his doubts.
Meanwhile, a man called Abbanes wandered around Jerusalem on an errand to buy a carpenter for his master, the Indo-Parthian king Gundaphorus. Jesus saw Abbanes as he walked through the marketplace, approached him, and proceeded to “sell” Thomas to the king’s merchant as a carpenter. The apostle went with Abbanes the following day and started a whole new adventure in India.
They docked at the port of a city called Andrapolis and Thomas was eventually called to the presence of the king just after the wedding celebration of his daughter. The king asked him to bless the new couple in their room, to which the apostle agreed to but when they left, Jesus appeared to the couple and told them to keep themselves chaste. He convinced them not to have children so they could find enlightenment and both eventually converted to Christianity. The king heard the news about the couple’s conversion the following morning which made him livid at the possibility of not having heirs. He commanded his men to look for and bring the apostle to him, but Thomas had sailed away to the territory of king Gundaphorus before he was caught.
The king Gundaphorus asked Thomas to build a palace for him and provided him with money for this project. Instead of building the palace, Thomas gave the money away to the poor which resulted in his imprisonment. The king’s brother, a man named Gad, died shortly afterwards and saw that the king had a palace in heaven because of the apostle Thomas. The deceased brother asked to be sent back to earth so he could buy the palace.
Martyrdom and Feast Days
The apostle performed more miracles after this and according to Edessene tradition, his adventures ended only when he was killed by four soldiers with spears. According to another story from India, Thomas was killed by a Brahmin with a spear in 72 AD because of the apostle’s popularity among the people. In the 9th century, Saint Thomas’ feast day was held on December 21st which was the day that he supposedly died. In the Martyrology of St Jerome, the third day of July was Saint Thomas’ feast day as it was the day when his relics were transported from the city of Mylapore in Chennai, India to Edessa in northern Mesopotamia. The Byzantine Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Saint Thomas’ day on the sixth of October.
Picture By Peter Paul Rubens – Ophelia2, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14520851
Klijn, Albertus Frederick Johannes. The Acts of Thomas: Introduction, Text, and Commentary by A.F.J. Klijn. Leiden: Brill, 2003.
McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus.
“The Acts of Thomas.” The Acts of Thomas. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://gnosis.org/library/actthom.htm.
“St. Thomas – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online.” St. Thomas – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=410.