Thomas the Twin
Thomas was born c. AD 10 (3770–3771 in the Hebrew calendar) in the Roman district of Galilee. There are only eleven total mentions of "Thomas" in the New Testament, often listed among Jesus' eleven other apostles. He was most likely a Galilean as were most of the others, perhaps a fisherman like Simon Peter and Andrew of Bethsaida. Out of the four gospel writers, only John son of Zebedee wrote about Thomas at any length. He said the apostles called him "the twin" (John 20:24; 21:2), the meaning of his name. Thōmas (G2381) is the Greek rendering of the Aramaic Tawoma, which simply means "twin" and similar to the Hebrew tawom (H8380, "twin"). In some Bible translations such as the New International Version (NIV), the editors mistakenly interpret the Greek word didumos (G1324, "twin") to say that Thomas "was also called Didymus" (cf. John 21:2 NIV). While it is possible that Jesus and the other apostles identified him as both Hebreo-Greek Thōmas and the more purely Hellenic Didumos, they probably just referred to him as "the twin". In other words, "Thomas" or "Didymus" could have been his proper names, or his identity may simply be unknown to us. This begs the question: Of whom was Thomas a twin? Maybe his appearance resembled that of Jesus.
Example of Radical Faith
Christians usually typecast him as "doubting Thomas" because he wanted to verify the resurrected Jesus. He is usually deemed a skeptic, someone who questions all truth claims with reasonable doubt. In John's overall record of Thomas, however, there are two shining moments of great faith that we tend to overlook. When Jesus told the disciples that he was taking them back to Judea because their mutual friend Lazarus died (John 11:7-15), Thomas gave this particular response: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" (v. 16). The others were afraid of being killed alongside Jesus because the Judean religious leaders wanted to execute him for blasphemy (John 10:31-39; 11:8). Yet, Thomas was the one who was willing to risk martyrdom in the name of Christ.
When Jesus informed the disciples, "You know the way to the place where I am going" (John 14:4), Thomas asked, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (v. 5). This was another shining moment of great faith for Thomas. He really wanted to know how to find Jesus after the priests arrested him. Thomas did not yet understand that Jesus would be resurrected and ascend into heaven. However, he did realize the Lord was speaking of his imminent crucifixion. This did not deter Thomas from hoping to find him alive somehow. In response, Jesus told him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).
Disciple of Evidential Faith
Perhaps we may consider Thomas the forerunner in the "quest for the historical Jesus," yet one who also confessed the "Christ of faith". His was an evidential faith based on testing whether the reports of Jesus' resurrection were true. To be fair, the other disciples had their own doubts when Mary Magdalene and the other women told them about the resurrection (Luke 24:10-11). By the time they informed Thomas, the others had already seen Jesus' hands and side for themselves (John 20:20). Thomas hoped. That is why he responded, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe" (v. 25b).
Thomas wanted to believe, just like he wanted to know how to find Jesus after his arrest. What he did not say was, "That is impossible; no one comes back from the dead." Thomas was not that kind of skeptic, and we may even find his initial doubt reasonable. Jesus, showing himself to be God in human flesh and blood, instructed Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe" (John 20:27). A "doubting Thomas" no more, he gave this astonishing confession: "My Lord and my God!" (v. 28). Notice, the text never mentions anything about Thomas actually touching Christ's wounds—he did not have to do so. While Jesus asked him, "Have you believed because you have seen me?" he commends us today: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (v. 29). Thomas was blessed to be living in first-century, New Testament history when he witnessed the historical Jesus before and after the resurrection. How much more blessed are we twenty-first-century believers to know Christ while we await the day to see him before our very eyes!
Evangelism in India
Most of the extra-biblical accounts of Jesus' apostles come from questionable sources written well after the the first century and are probably not historical. With Thomas, however, there is a very ancient Christian tradition in the Indian state of Kerala. Patristic sources from the third and fourth centuries are unanimous that Thomas traveled along the Silk Road from Judea to India in AD 52. He was probably intending to evangelize the Aramaic-speaking Jewish dispersion who lived along the old trade routes on the Malabar Coast from the reign of King Solomon. To this day, there are various churches throughout Kerala that identify themselves as "Saint Thomas Christians" (Syriac: Mar Thoma Nasrani, lit. "Saint Thomas Nazarenes") with a strong lineage to the early church. When the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama's (c. 1460–1524) first voyage arrived in Kerala in 1498, they were surprised to find an indigenous Christian population established there.
Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, for you strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus the Messiah, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer. Huntington Beach, CA: Anglican Liturgy Press, 2019. p. 624. http://bcp2019.anglicanchurch.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/BCP2019.pdf.
Campbell, Eila M. J., and Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. "Vasco da Gama." Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vasco-da-Gama.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Thousand Years. New York: Penguin, 2011.
McBirnie, William Stuart. The Search for the Twelve Apostles. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2013.
McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis, 2016.
Most, Glenn W. Doubting Thomas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2009.
Strong, James. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible: Updated and Expanded Edition. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007.