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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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THOMAS.—One of the twelve Apostles. (For the name see Didymus). In the lists of the Twelve his name is always in the second group of four. In Mark 3:18, where the names are not in pairs, he is eighth; so in Luke 6:15, where he is coupled with Matthew. In Matthew 10:3 he is seventh, coming before Matthew. In Acts 1:13 he is sixth, and is coupled with Philip. No incident is recorded of him in the Synoptics or in Acts; but he comes into some prominence in the later scenes in the Fourth Gospel. When Jesus is about to return to Judaea because of the death of Lazarus, and the disciples are afraid of Jewish hostility, Thomas says, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11:16). In the conversation after the Supper, Thomas interjects the remark, ‘Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?’ (John 14:5); and thereby elicits the great saying, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6). When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of the Resurrection day, Thomas was absent, and was unable afterwards to accept the testimony, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ He must himself not only see the Master, but touch His body before he could believe (John 20:24-25). A week later Thomas is present when Jesus again appears; and then his doubts vanish, and he rises to the completest confession of faith recorded in the Gospels, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:26-29). Thomas is mentioned also in John 21:2 as one of the group to whom Jesus appeared on the morning by the Lake-side.

Later traditions of Thomas, obviously of little value, are mentioned in Eusebius and in the Apocryphal Acts of Thomas. He is spoken of as a missionary to Parthia, or to India. Some traditions assign to him the honour of martyrdom; and his supposed grave was shown at Edessa in the 4th century.

The personality of Thomas has a clear and consistent expression in the incidents which the Fourth Gospel records. He belongs to the quiet, reflective group of the Apostolic company; and his temperament is that of a man who finds the best things too good to be true, and who usually imagines that the worst foreseen possibility will be realized. He requires direct personal evidence, and will not hastily accept the testimony even of his friends. Yet he is not lacking in devotion and love to his Lord. He will die with Him rather than desert His cause; and in his gloomiest days of unbelief he does not separate himself from the Apostolic company. Though not persuaded of the reality of the Resurrection, he keeps his old loyalty and love; and when the Master’s presence is utterly sure, he gladly accepts the highest that the revelation of Christ implies. His unbelief was never a failure to respond to the spiritual truth and love brought to him by his Master; at most it was an inability to accept unexpected and marvellous external manifestations of that truth. ‘In Thomas we have a man incredulous but tenacious; despondent but true; with little hope but much courage; sincere in love though perplexed in faith; neither rushing to the right conclusion as Peter might have done, nor rushing away from it into danger and dishonour as Peter did’ (T. T. Lynch).

The scepticism of Thomas has a real apologetic value. It goes to disprove the contention that the Apostles were credulous persons easily misled by their hopes, and so deluded into a mistaken belief that their dead Master had spoken to them. Thomas believed because the fact which was too good to hope for became too certain to reject.

Literature.—Among expository sermons on Thomas may be named F. W. Robertson, Serm. ii. 268; T. T. Lynch, Serm. for my Curates, 33; H. M. Butler, Univ. and other Serm. 43; A. B. Davidson, The Called of God, 317.

E. H. Titchmarsh.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Thomas'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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