Thomas the Apostle

Saint Thomas the Apostle, a.k.a. “doubting Thomas”, or Didymus; toma is the Aramaic word for twin, didymus is the Greek word for the twin (died circa A.D. 72)

Icon of Thomas the Apostle

Thomas was one of the twelve apostles chosen and invested (ordained, Mark 3:14) by Jesus. Thomas was an eyewitness to most of the events of Jesus ministry and he was present during times when Jesus was trying to teach the apostles about the things they didn’t really understand.

When Lazarus had recently died, the apostles do not wish to go back to Judea, because of Jews there had attempted to stone Jesus. Thomas is the apostle who says: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” ( John 11:16 KJV)

When Jesus explained that he was going away to prepare a heavenly home for his followers, and that one day they would join him there. It was Thomas who reacted by saying, “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?” ( John 14:5 KJV)

The apostle John tells us that when Thomas heard that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to the other apostles, he did nor believe it and he said” “Except I shall see on his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” But when Jesus appeared later and invited Thomas to touch his wounds and behold him, Thomas showed his belief by saying, “My Lord and my God”. Jesus then said, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.” (John 20:24-29, KJV). Hence Thomas has been referred to as “doubting Thomas”.

Like the other eleven apostles, after Christ’s resurrection, Thomas traveled around Palestine and preach the truth he had seen himself. Around A.D. 41 (after the persecution of Christians Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem) Thomas began to travel more widely.

Eusebius of Caesarea quotes Origen of Alexandria as having stated that Thomas was an apostle to the Parthians (e.g., the Persians), along with Bartholomew. Thomas is reported to have met Gondophares, a Zoroastrian priest who some said was one of the three magi (see 4 B.C.) who brought gifts to Christ shortly after his birth.

Image of Gondophares found on his coins

In A.D. 20 Gondophares became the ruler of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom. (Modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India). Gondophares ruled from A.D. 20 to c. 55. Thomas is reported to have converted and baptized many and he established the church in the Indo-Parthian Capital City of Taxila (in the Punjab region of modern-day Pakistan). In A.D. 226 when the Sassanids of the “2nd Persian empire”, took over the Indo-Parthian territory, there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India (Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Sindh and the Punjab regions), with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity there.

In A.D. 52 the Apostle Thomas sailed to southern India (on the ship of an Indian merchant named Abbanes) to spread the Christian faith among the Jews, some of whom had migrated to Kerala. He reached Muziris, India (a sea port on the south eastern coast of India !!) and he is reported to have converted and baptized many people who are today known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis. Both the Indo-Parthian and the Southern Indian Churches which Saint Thomas founded were parts of the wider Church of the East which went on to accept the Nestorian heresy. Many of the details of Saint Thomas’s missionary travels through central Asia and the Indian subcontinent were written down in the anonymous and non-canonical book the Acts of Thomas (which was written circa 180–230 AD).

Note that the heterodox Christian Nestorius denied the Chaledonian orthodox view of the hypostatic union in Christ i.e. that Christ had 2 natures, one divine, and one human, combine in one person (see A.D. 451). Instead Nestorius taught that there were two separate persons in the incarnate Christ, one human, one divine {two separate hypostases). This is a form of dyophysitism}. as their official doctrine; (see: A.D. 428).

According to The Passing of Mary, another non-canonical text, which is attributed to Joseph of Arimathea, Thomas was the only witness of the Assumption of Mary into heaven. The other apostles were said to have been miraculously transported to Jerusalem to witness her dormition (i.e. her “falling asleep”). Thomas was left in India, but after her burial, he was “transported” to her tomb, where he is said to have witnessed her bodily assumption into heaven. During her assumption she is reported to have dropped her girdle (the cloth wrapped around her waist; see A.D. 41).

Map of the Churches in the Kerala, province of India which were established by Thomas

After a long period working at the royal court at Taxila (in the Punjab region), Thomas ordained leaders for a church there and he left the Parthian region and sailed south along the west coast of Indian. According to Indian Christian traditions, the Apostle Thomas arrived in Kodungallur (presently in the Indian state of Kerala) in A.D. 52. There he established the Eight Churches (the Ezharappallikal) and evangelized in present-day Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Many of these churches were built near already existing Jewish settlements. These were located at Maliankara (Kodungallur, this church is thought to have been the first church he established in Kerala), Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (North Paravur or Kottakkavu), Palayoor and Thiruvithamcode (Kanyakumari).

Region of Indian Evangelized by the Apostle Thomas where he was martyred in A.D. 72

Thomas then traveled from south western India (Kerala) to south eastern India. There Thomas converted numerous members of the court of king Misdeus (or Mizdeos). Thomas converted the queen Tertia, the king’s son Juzanes, sister-in-law princess Mygdonia and her friend Markia. King Misdeus was infuriated by this and he led Saint Thomas outside the city and ordered four soldiers to take him to the nearby hill, where the soldiers speared Thomas and killed him. Saint Thomas was martyred on July 3rd, A.D. 72.