Home » Early Church » What Ever Happened to the Apostles? – Saint Thomas

What Ever Happened to the Apostles? – Saint Thomas


What Ever Happened to the Apostles? – Saint Thomas

I’m back hoping to actually continuing a series that I had let other things get in the way of. What follows is some evidence of the 12 disciples/apostles and what we glean from the New Testament data and what happened to them from early witnesses. It is of course admitted that we can’t know for most of them if these are true. Still, some of the evidence is convincing.

For the earlier series post see these links

Today we look at the St. Thomas, known as doubting Thomas by Some and others as supposed gospel writer, while we’ll skip over any discussion of the Gnostic texts, we’ll look instead at what the New Testament and other early documents have to say.

New Testament Data

Thomas was evidently a twin, he is known as Didymus in the gospel of John “Thomas, called Didymus” (Jn. 11.15, 20.24; 21.2).[1] In later tradition, particular Syriac and Gnostic works, he is known as Judas Thomas and some Syriac manuscripts of John, replaces John 14.22’s “Judas (not Iscariot)” with “Judas Thomas.”[2] Moreover the Aramaic behind Thomas tĕ˒omâ is not a known Semitic name, while didymos (both meaning Twin) is.[3] This has led some to believed that Thomas itself might not be a name, but a title or nickname of sorts.[4] Others have pondered if Didymus was the name that Thomas was known among Greek-speaking circles in the church.[5]

We have no biblical data on who Thomas’ twin could have been. Some have speculated that Thomas’ twin brother was Matthew Levi, based in part of the two always being paired together in the Gospel listing of the 12.[6] The apocryphal tradition (often Gnostic in theology) quite frequently claims that he was the twin brother of Jesus.[7] However, most do not hold to this.

Despite the scene of his doubting following the resurrection of Christ (Jn 20.24), Thomas is seen as one of the more courageous of the disciples i.e. he encourages the other disciples to travel to Judea and face death with Christ (Jn. 11.16).[8] Moreover, after his initial doubts of the resurrected Lord he is seen as showing his faith by gathering with the other disciples (Jn. 21.2) and by his rather dramatic confession after Christ appeared to him (Jon. 20.28).[9]

Thomas’ other appearance in the NT Is during the final discourse of Christ in John, asking Christ how they shall know what to do without him (Jn. 14.5).[10] His presence here shows that not only was he a disciple, but also “a particularly significant witness to the risen Jesus.”[11]

Apocryphal Literature

In the apocryphal literature, Thomas often plays a rather “prominent role,” but few of these traditions if any are reliable.[12] The apocryphal work, “The Acts of Thomas,” records that Thomas went toward India and preached the gospel there before being martyred. This work also gives his name as “Judas Thomas.”[13]

The apocryphal Acts also noted that he ministered to the Gundaphorus, king of India (whose has been found to be historical), and that Thomas was also a carpenter. [14] (Roman Catholicism also appears to accepts this as he is the patron saint of Architects, masons, and stone cutters).[15]

Other apocryphal traditions, often place him as the author of various works, such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a co-author of the Epistle of the Apostles, most famously he is connected to the Coptic Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, and others.[16] These works are of a later date, however, and are of little use.

Patristic Tradition

Eusebius (HE 3.1) and many other patristic teachers point to Thomas’ mission as going to the Parthians (against various Apocryphal traditions).[17] (Parthia is between the Tigris and Indus rivers).[18]Most see this as the most reliable and think it is acceptable that he could have traveled east first to Parthia and eventually to India.[19] This tradition of his going to India is also found in the 3rd/4th-century work known as the Acts of Thomas.[20] While the Acts of Thomas certainly contain much fiction in them it seems likely that they have at their core a “historic nucleus.”[21] Syrian Christians also say that their tradition places Thomas as ministering in India, as well as being martyred at Mylapore, where he is said to be buried.[22] However, The Roman Martyrology gives the place instead as Calamina, although some connect this to Mylapore.[23]

Concerning his death the Acts of Thomas state that at the end of his ministry in India he was martyred, being killed by being pierced by spears of four soldiers.

168And when he had prayed, he said to the soldiers: ‘Come and fulfill the command of him who sent you!’ And at once the four smote him and slew him. But all the brethren wept. And wrapping him in fine robes and many fine linen cloths they laid him in the tomb in which the kings old were buried.”

We’ll finish this with a quote from Justo L Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity, Volume 1 pages 29-30.

“The tradition that claims Thomas visited India leaves historians somewhat baffled. It appears for the first time in the Acts of Thomas, which may have been written as early as the end of the second century. But already it is embellished with legendary tales that make the entire account suspicious. We are told that an Indian king, Gondophares, was seeking an architect to build a palace, and that Thomas, who was no architect, offered himself for the job. When the king found that Thomas was giving to the poor the money allotted for the construction of the palace, he had the apostle put in prison. But then Gondophares’s brother, Gad, died and came back from the dead. Upon his return he told his brother of the magnificent heavenly palace that he had seen, which was being built through Thomas’s gifts to the poor. The king was then converted and baptized, and Thomas moved on to other parts of India, until he died as a martyr.

Historians have found that much in this legend is of questionable authenticity, and have often discarded the whole of it as fictitious, for history had no record of Gondophares or of any of the other details of the story. More recently, however, coins have been found that prove that there was indeed a ruler by that name, and that he had a brother named Gad. This, coupled with the undeniable antiquity of Christianity in India, and with the fact that at the time there was significant trade between India and the Near East, makes it more difficult to reject categorically the possibility that Thomas may have visited that land, and that the story may have been embellished with all kinds of legendary details later. In any case, it is significant that from a relatively early date there was a church in India, and that this church has long claimed Thomas as its founder.”


[1] M.J. Wilkins, “Disciples,” in DJD, 180.

[2] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:841.

[3] Raymond F. Collins, “Thomas (Person), in ABD 6:528.

[4] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:841.

[5] Raymond F. Collins, “Thomas (Person), in ABD 6:528.

[6] Philip Schaff, History of the Church, 1:613.

[7] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:841.

[8] Wilkins, 180.

[9] Wilkins, 180.

[10] ODCC, s.v. “Thomas, St, Apostle.”

[11] Raymond F. Collins, “Thomas (Person), in ABD 6:528.

[12] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:842.

[13] ODCC, s.v. “Thomas, St, Apostle.”

[14] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:842.

[15] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:842.

[16] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:842.

[17] ODCC, s.v. “Thomas, St, Apostle.”

[18] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:842.

[19] C.L. Blomberg, “Thomas,” ISBE, 4:842.

[20] Raymond F. Collins, “Thomas (Person), in ABD 6:528.

[21] Thomaskutty, 198.

[22] ODCC, s.v. “Thomas, St, Apostle.”

[23] ODCC, s.v. “Thomas, St, Apostle.”


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