1. Religion & Spirituality

Who Was Saint Thomas the Apostle?

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saint Thomas

The painting "The Disbelief of Saint Thomas" by James Joseph Jacques Tissot, circa 1890

Public Domain

Name:

Saint Thomas the Apostle, also known as "Doubting Thomas"

Lifetime:

1st century (birth year unknown - died in 72 AD), in Galilee when it was part of the ancient Roman Empire (now part of Israel), Syria, ancient Persia, and India

Feast Days:

the 1st Sunday after Easter, October 6th, June 30th, July 3rd, and December 21st

Patron Saint Of:

people struggling with doubt, blind people, architects, builders, carpenters, construction workers, geometricians, stone masons, surveyors, theologians; and places such as Certaldo, Italy, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka

Famous Miracles:

Saint Thomas is most famous for how he interacted with Jesus Christ after the miracle of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. The Bible records in John chapter 20 that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to some of his disciples while they were together, but Thomas wasn't with the group at the time. Verse 25 describes Thomas' reaction when the disciples told him the news: "So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'"

Shortly afterward, the resurrected Jesus appeared to Thomas and invited him to examine his crucifixion scars and in exactly the way Thomas had requested. John 20:26-27 records: "A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you!' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'"

After getting the physical proof he'd wanted of the resurrection miracle, Thomas's doubt turned to strong belief: Thomas said to him, 'My Lord and my God!'" (John 20:28).

The next verse reveals that Jesus blesses people who are willing to have faith in something that they can't see right now: "Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'" (John 20:29). Thomas' encounter with Jesus shows how the right response to doubt -- curiosity and searching -- can lead to deep belief.

Catholic tradition says that Thomas witnessed the miraculous ascension into heaven of Saint Mary (the Virgin Mary) after her death.

God performed many miracles through Thomas to help the people with whom Thomas shared the Gospel message -- in Syria, Persia, and India -- believe, according to Christian tradition. Right before his death in 72 AD, Thomas stood up to an Indian king (whose wife had become a Christian) when he pressured Thomas to make religious sacrifices to an idol. Miraculously, the idol shattered into pieces when Thomas was forced to approach it. The king was so enraged that he ordered his high priest to kill Thomas, and he did: Thomas died from being pierced by a spear, but was reunited with Jesus in heaven.

Biography:

Thomas, whose full name was Didymus Judas Thomas, lived in Galilee when it was part of the ancient Roman Empire and became one of Jesus Christ’s disciples when Jesus called him to join his ministry work.

His inquisitive mind led him to naturally doubt God's work in the world, but also led him to pursue answers to his questions, which ultimately led him to great faith. Thomas is known in popular culture as "Doubting Thomas" because of the famous Bible story in which he demands to see physical proof of Jesus’ resurrection before believing it, and Jesus appears, inviting Thomas to touch the scars of his wounds from the crucifixion.

When Thomas believed, he could be quite courageous. The Bible records in John chapter 11 that when the disciples were worried about accompanying Jesus to Judea (because the Jews had previously tried to stone Jesus there), Thomas encouraged them to stick with Jesus, who wanted to return to the area to help his friend Lazarus, even if that meant being attacked by Jewish leaders there. Thomas says in verse 16: "Let us also go, that we might die with him."

Thomas later asked Jesus a famous question when the disciples were eating the Last Supper with him. John 14:1-4 of the Bible records Jesus telling his disciples: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas' question comes next, revealing that he's thinking of physical directions rather than spiritual guidance: "Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"

Thanks to Thomas' question, Jesus clarified his point, uttering these famous words about his divinity in verse 6 and 7: "Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

Beyond his words recorded in the Bible, Thomas is also credited as the author of the non-canonical texts The Gospel of Thomas, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas (which describes miracles that Thomas said Jesus performed as a boy and told him about), and the Acts of Thomas.

In his Book of Thomas the Doubter: Uncovering the Hidden Teachings, George Augustus Tyrrell comments: "It may be that Thomas' critical mind compelled Jesus to explain the teachings more deeply to him than to the credulous disciples. For the prologue in the Gospel of Thomas states: 'These are the secret teachings the living Jesus spoke and Judas Thomas wrote down.'"

After Jesus ascended into heaven, Thomas and the other disciples each traveled to various parts of the world to share the Gospel message with people. Thomas shared the Gospel with people in Syria, ancient Persia, and India. Thomas is still known today as the apostle to India for the many churches that he formed and helped build there.

Thomas died in India in 72 AD as a martyr for his faith when an Indian king, angry that he couldn't get Thomas to worship an idol, ordered his high priest to stab Thomas with a spear.

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