Thomas, Apostle, St.
THOMAS, APOSTLE, ST.
One of the twelve (Mk 3:16–19; Mt 10:2–4; Lk 14–16; Jn 20:24; Acts 1:13). The lists of the Twelve in the Synoptic Gospels always locate Thomas in the second group of four, usually paired with Matthew. But Acts 1:13 pairs him with Philip. The synoptic tradition only mentions the name of Thomas but gives us no further details. Almost all our information about Thomas, his personality, and his character, comes to us from the Fourth Gospel. In the Fourth Gospel Thomas appears in four passages (Jn 11:16; 14:5; 20:24–28; 21:2) and plays an important role in the theological development of the gospel.
The Greek τωμ[symbol omitted]ς is a transliteration of the Aramaic word t e'ômâ, meaning "twin." The latter word finds no
attestation as a surname in the Semitic world while its Greek translation, δίδυμος, is widely used as a surname in the ancient world. Quite naturally one would inquire about Thomas' twin. Given the fact the biblical literature is silent on the matter several later texts, including the third century apocryphal Acts of Thomas alleged that Thomas was Jesus' own twin.
In two passages that have no parallel in the synoptic tradition, the Gospel according to John introduces Thomas as a disciple of Jesus. In the first, Jn 11:16 portrays Thomas as the fearless disciple, prepared to follow Jesus to his death and encouraging the other disciples to do the same. In the second passage, however, Thomas appears confused when confronted with Jesus' prediction about his own death. In the second, Thomas' misunderstanding of Jesus' mission then becomes the occasion for Jesus' proclamation that he is "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). It is in the final two passages that we find the most popular portrayal of the Apostle Thomas as 'doubting Thomas'. In these passages the Fourth Gospel omits the scene in the synoptic accounts where the disciples collectively express doubt when presented with the testimony of the first witnesses to Jesus' Resurrection (Mt 28:17; Mk 16:13; Lk 24:10–11).
The importance of Thomas as a character in the Fourth Gospel gave rise to many popular traditions about the career of the Apostle. According to the Coptic Gospel of Thomas Thomas was the recipient of secret revelations from Jesus after the Resurrection. These revelations have a distinctly Gnostic character. The Acts of Thomas offers a legendary description of the apostle's missionary activity in India. The tradition embodied in these legends have been maintained by Christians in India for centuries, and the existence of primitive and distinctive Christian communities in India prior to the arrival of Western colonial missionaries provide some oblique support for these traditions.
Feast: Dec. 21 (Latin Church).
Bibliography: r. e. brown, The Gospel According to John, 2 v., Anchor Bible Commentary. (Garden City, NJ 1966–1970). r.f. collins, "The Representative Figures of the Fourth Gospel," Downside Review 94 (1976): 26–46, 118–132. j. p. meier, "The Circle of the Twelve: Did it Exist During Jesus' Public Ministry?" JBL 116 (1997): 635–72.