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His character exudes through the text of John’s gospel. When the Lord resolved to go to Judea to heal Lazarus against the warning by the other disciples that the Jews wanted to stone him, Thomas exhibited both pessimism and intense loyalty when he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). When Jesus assumed that the disciples knew the way to the Father’s house, Thomas was honest and forthright enough to confess openly his ignorance, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (14:5). The dull and imperfect understanding of Thomas provided Jesus an opportunity to disclose more truth about Himself (14:6, 7). For some reason, perhaps melancholic and disillusioned, Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the evening of the resurrection (20:24, 25). When told that they had seen the Lord, he refused to be convinced of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection unless he could see and touch the tangible evidence (20:25). For this, “doubting Thomas” has become a byword. When such evidence was presented eight days later, he uttered the grandest expression of faith in the fourth gospel, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).

Thomas had been fishing on the Sea of Galilee with six other disciples and caught nothing, when Jesus appeared to them the third time after His resurrection (21:1-14). Directed by the Lord to cast their net on the right side of the boat, they brought in a net full of fish, after which they had breakfast together. The last New Testament mention of Thomas is as a loyal follower of Jesus after the ascension, gathered in a prayer meeting with the eleven, some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brethren (Acts 1:12-14).

There are questionable traditions concerning the post-resurrection missionary activities of Thomas. According to Origen, cited by Eusebius (Hist. III. 1), Thomas worked in Parthia. The Acts of Thomas (2nd cent.) tells how the world was partitioned by lot as a mission field by the disciples. According to this apocryphal and conflicting account, Thomas’ lot fell to India, where he experienced many trials and martyrdom, and was buried by his converts. According to Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, Bk. 4), however, Thomas died a natural death, not as a martyr. His supposed remains were exhibited there as late as the 16th cent. Other adventures are narrated in the apocryphal “Preaching of St. Thomas” and the “Martyrdom of St. Thomas in India.” Present-day Christians of St. Thomas of India base their claims to spiritual descent from this missionary father largely on these documents. Another tradition states that his remains were brought to Edessa in Mesopotamia, and from there to Ortona in Italy during the Crusades.

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Apostle. The name apparently comes from an Aramaic word meaning “twin,” but it is not certain whose twin he was. In the lists of the twelve, which are arranged in three groups of four, his name occurs in the second group, suggesting neither eminence nor obscurity (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13). He is most prominent in John's gospel and the Greek version “Didymus” is used three times (11:16; 20:24; 21:2). We find him here associated particularly with the death and resurrection of Jesus. He is prepared to go with Jesus to the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:16) even if it means death. He confesses himself to be ignorant of the meaning of Jesus when He talks about His departure (John 14:5), and he is unwilling to accept the account given him by the other disciples of the risen Jesus whose appearance he missed seeing (John 20:24f.). The climax of the fourth gospel comes when “Doubting Thomas” is given the evidence for which he asked, and in return ejaculates the supreme confession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” The last great beatitude is then pronounced on those who have not seen and yet believe. Thomas is named also in John 21:2. He was almost certainly active in missionary work in the East, possibly in Parthia (Eusebius), Persia (Jerome), or India (as the Mar Thoma Church believes).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Thomas; ta’om, "a twin" (in plural only):

1. In the New Testament:

2. In Apocryphal Literature:

According to the "Genealogies of the Twelve Apostles" (compare Budge, The Contendings of the Apostles, II, 50), Thomas was of the house of Asher. The oldest accounts are to the effect that he died a natural death of (compare Clement of Alexandria iv.9, 71). Two fields are mentioned by apocryphal literature as the scene of Thomas’ missionary labors.

(1) According to origen, he preached in Parthia, the according to a Syrian legend he died at Edessa. The Agbar legend also indicates the connection of Thomas with Edessa. But Eusebius indicates it was Thaddaeus and not Thomas who preached there (see Thaddaeus).

(2) Along with these are other sources identifying Thomas with India. Thus, "The Ac of Thomas" (see Apocryphal Acts, sec. B, V), a Gnostic work dating from the 2nd century, tells how when the world was partitioned out as a mission field among the disciples, India fell to "Judas Thomas, also called Didymus," and narrates his adventures on the way, his trials, missionary success, and death at the hands of Misdai, king of India (compare Budge, II, 404 ff; Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 473-544; Pick, The Apocryphal Acts, 224 ff). The "Preaching of Thomas" (compare Budge, II, 319) relates still more fantastic adventures of Thomas in India, and the "Martyrdom of Thomas in India" states that on his departure toward Macedonia he was put to death as a sorcerer.

Of the two, the former is the more probable. An attempt at reconciliation has been made by supposing that the relics of Thomas were transported from India to Edessa, but this is based on inaccurate historical information (compare Hennecke, op. cit., 474). The additional names "Judas" and "Didymus" have causd further confusion in apocryphal literature in regard to Thomas, and have led to his identification with Judas of James, and hence, with Thaddaeus (see Thaddaeus), and also with Judas the brother of Jesus (compare Mt 13:55). Thus in the "Ac of Thomas" he is twice called the "twin brother of the Messiah." Another legend makes Lysia the twin sister of Thomas. A Gnostic "Gospel of Thomas" (see APOCRYPHAL GOSPELS, III, 2, (a)) was known to Irenaeus (compare Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., 1,20).

3. Character:

Although little is recorded of Thomas in the Gospels, he is yet one of the most fascinating of the apostles. He is typical of that nature--a nature by no means rare--which contains within it certain conflicting elements exceedingly difficult of reconciliation. Possessed of little natural buoyancy of spirit, and inclined to look upon life with the eyes of gloom or despondency, Thomas was yet a man of indomitable courage and entire unselfishness. Thus with a perplexed faith in the teaching of Jesus was mingled a sincere love for Jesus the teacher. In the incident of Christ’s departure for Bethany, his devotion to his Master proved stronger than his fear of death. Thus far, in a situation demanding immediate action, the faith of Thomas triumphed; but when it came into conflict with his standards of belief it was put to a harder test. For Thomas desired to test all truth by the evidence of his senses, and in this, coupled with a mind tenacious both of its beliefs and disbeliefs, lay the real source of his religious difficulties. It was his sincerity which made him to stand aloof from the rest of the disciples till he had attained to personal conviction regarding the resurrection; but his sincerity also drew from him the testimony to that conviction, "My Lord and my God," the greatest and fullest in all Christianity.


  • C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (1955), 327, 388, 389;

  • “Acts of Thomas” in Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha II (1964), 425-437.