The Apostle Thomas Biography, Doubting, Life and Death

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

What can we learn about the Apostle Thomas?  Why is he sometimes called “Doubting Thomas?”

The Apostle Thomas

The Apostle Thomas might have been one of two twins in his family because his name “Thomas Didymus” means “the twin” but he is usually better known as or referred to more often, unfortunately, as “Doubting Thomas” which we will later read why he was referred to by this nick name.  We don’t hear much from Thomas in the gospels at all and he is rarely mentioned until just prior to Jesus going to the cross and after His death at Calvary.  One thing that I admire about Thomas is that he asked questions when others might have just been wondering about things but were hesitant to ask.  For example when Jesus said that He was going away and that He was going to prepare a place for the disciples and would come again for them (John 14:2-4) everyone else was silent.  When it seemed no one else would speak up, Thomas asked “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way” (John 14:5)?  The other disciples might have been thinking the same thing but Thomas wasn’t’ shy about asking.  At least he asked where Jesus was going to which Jesus responded by saying that He is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

Thomas’ Bravery

I think we are too hard on Thomas because Thomas was ready to go up to Jerusalem and die with Christ (John 11:16) while the others tried to talk Jesus out of going back to Judea (John 11:8).  When Lazarus had died Jesus said “Let us go to Judea again” (John 11:7b) but “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world” (John 11:8-9).  So the disciples apparently tried talking Jesus out of going for fear of being stoned and the disciples probably didn’t especially want to go either because if Jesus was stoned, what would become of them?  Did they have fear about going back to Bethany too?  Thomas seemed the bravest of them all by saying “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16) so we should give Thomas some credit as he was apparently ready to die for the Lord, unlike the other disciples at that time.

The Apostle Thomas Biography

“Doubting Thomas?”

I think it’s unfortunate that Thomas has the label “Doubting Thomas” because he was never called that in the Bible. That is a label that we have put on him and I do think it’s a bit unfair to him.  How many of us who had been eyewitnesses of Christ and thought that He was the Messiah but was then later killed by unjust methods, illegal trials and evidence, by despicably wicked men would have doubted just as Thomas had?  Wouldn’t we too have given up when all of our hopes were apparently dashed to pieces when Jesus was humiliatingly crucified?  I believe I would have.  Thomas must have been heartbroken, having all his hopes crushed when Jesus died on the cross.

We should realize that the disciples were not any less doubting than Thomas was because after Jesus’ death, they were in hiding and had the doors locked for fear of the Jews, perhaps thinking that they would be next (John 20:19). It was only after Jesus appeared to them that they finally believed.  That’s when they tried to tell Thomas which is recorded in John 20:24-25, 28 which says, “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe’ [but when Thomas saw Jesus] “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”  Thomas made the first public profession of Jesus as being both Lord and God so let’s try not to judge Thomas too harshly because I believe if we were in his place, we too would have doubted.

Thomas’ Later Life

Church tradition and history tells us that Thomas traveled outside of the Roman Empire as a missionary, possibly as far away as India to preach the gospel, which is yet another indication of Thomas’ boldness. He may have reached Muziris, India where he baptized several believers and was possibly the first to bring the gospel to the Far East. This might explain why he is considered the Patron Saint of India. His name in the Indian language, “Thoma,” remains quite popular to this day in India.

Not very much is known about the method of Thomas’ execution but that maybe due to the fact that he was a missionary in faraway India. Church tradition says that while he was establishing a church there, he was stabbed with a spear, dying from the wound. The irony here is that Jesus told Thomas to touch his side and his hands where the wounds from the cross were still visible (John 10:27). There are so few historical facts that are available beyond this account that we cannot add much more to this account and do so with absolute certainty.

Conclusion

Thomas got a bum rap.  He was no more doubting than the rest of the disciples and the only reason he doubted and the others didn’t was because they had seen the resurrected Christ. When the women came back from the empty tomb and after seeing the risen Christ, the disciples also doubted.  To me, there is no doubt that Thomas was a strong believer and a powerful missionary used by God to the glory of God.

Take a look at another Apostle biography here: John the Apostle

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.





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