Where did Doubting Thomas get his name? The “doubting” part is well known. He missed the first appearance of Jesus after his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, and when the others told him what they had seen, he refused to believe it until he saw with his own eyes and touched with his own hands.
But we’re not talking about that, today. No, it’s “Thomas” that I’m interested in.
Thomas (to’am, or Tomas) means Twin. Why this man is called twin is a matter of controversy and there are several different theories. I’ll share as many of those theories as I can before we’re through.
One theory in particular always interested me, however, and when I began my mystery thriller series set in Jesus’ time, I chose Thomas as my detective and chose this theory as the “truth” for the book. I don’t really know why he was called Thomas. No one does, but when it came time to write, I had to choose one and run with it.
Theory #1: He looks like Jesus.
This is different from what I’ll call theory #2, that Thomas was Jesus’ literal twin. The idea that Jesus and Thomas are the twins sons of Mary can be found in The Book of Thomas The Contender (Wikipedia link), a Gnostic gospel.
It’s impossible for me to take the literal twin idea seriously, but as we are talking about the name “Thomas” there is an interesting connection. To be clear, if Jesus had really had a twin, we would have a very different Christmas story in the book of Luke. It’s simply not the case, but I’ll share the connection anyway.
I found this at Abirm Publications.
“The constellation of Twins was venerated all over the classical world…
“In Babylonian astrology the Twins were manifestations of one deity called Nergal (2 Kings 17:30)…
“…[O]ne particular strand of mythology depicted one as mortal and the other as immortal.”
I have no idea if the Gnostic gospel, Thomas the Contender, had any of that in mind when it gave the immortal Christ a mortal twin, but when I read that at Abirm Publications, it certainly brought The Contender to mind.
So, I’ll dispense with the idea that Thomas was Jesus’s literal twin, and before we get back to Theory #1, this is also a fine moment to deal with Theory #3.
Theory #3: He was the twin of some unknown individual.
I’m not here to prove my chosen theory as correct. I picked it because it’s fun and plausible, but I have no idea if it’s correct. Theory #3, however, I’m fairly confident is impossible.
It ONLY works if he is nicknamed “the twin”, because, frankly, who is going to name their child “twin” because he has one?
“These are my boys, Joe and Twin.”
I don’t see it. Besides, names were used repetitively. There are a plethora of people named Judas and Simon. The number of women named Mary in the bible is just confusing. The man who became known as Barnabas, the first missionary companion of Paul, his real name was Joseph, and his sister’s name was Mary. They were family names taken from important people in Jewish history. We know them by their English or Greek variations, but James was really Jacob, Mary was Miriam, and Jesus was Joshua (or Yeshua).
Without proper surnames, they had to create them to tell people apart. They were known by who their father was, where they came from, or by a nick name. There is Judas Iscariot. The Judas we know as Jude (although that might just be for our benefit). The Judas known as Thadeus (the greek form of the name). There were people named Judas everywhere you turned.
The name Thomas is unknown in scripture before his appearance in the gospels. Abrim Publications refers to BDB Theological Dictionary’s stance that it was also a Phoenician name but state that it’s unclear whether this was before or after the New Testament occurrence. They suggest the possibility that the name’s first use ever could be in the Gospels.
Which brings us back to theory #2. You’re someone’s twin. Great. Fine. But there would have to be a compelling reason to invent “Twin” or “Thomas” as a nickname. The fact that you have a twin that we never really see does not fit that criteria.
But what if Thomas wasn’t an actual Twin? What if he just looked like someone? Even then, why call him “Twin”. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me unless the person he looks like is the center of attention. If you look like the Man in charge, then being called His twin makes sense.
And now we’re back to Theory #1: He looked like Jesus.
I can’t prove it. I don’t want to prove it. I doubt it can be proven. However, there are reasons why this always interested me.
When Judas betrays Jesus, why does he identify him with a kiss. Fine, it was dark, but was it really that hard to pick him out of the crowd? It would have been if he had to be close enough to be sure it wasn’t actually Thomas.
Why does Thomas refuse to believe the others about the risen Christ? There are plenty of reasons I’m sure, but if he looked like Jesus, he would know all to well the possibility that they were mistaken. He wanted to see for himself, and, more than that, he wanted to touch the wounds that proved this wasn’t just some look-alike.
Thomas would have been a nickname. Unfortunately, most of the instances in which we have a first name given to us are from the Gnostic gospels. However, he is also given a first name in the Didascalia (Wikipedia link), a third century writing that teaches against Gnosticism. He is once referenced as having a given name in the writings of Eusebius (Wikipedia link) a Greek historian of Christianity.
In each case, he is known as Judas Thomas. This is what I have chosen to use in my novel series.
Talking about looking like Jesus, He was no pretty boy. Isaiah 53:2 states,
“[H]e has no stately form nor splendor; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.”
Jesus did not look like this:
That would mean Thomas wasn’t pretty either. He’s spent his entire life with a face that didn’t attract attention and didn’t stand out, but Jesus rises in fame, Thomas’s likeness to him would change all of that. I find that idea interesting a mean to explore it in the novel series.
Okay, let’s take a quick look at all the theories (that I can remember)!
#1: He looked like Jesus
#2: He was Jesus’ literal twin.
#3: He was someone else’s twin.
#4: His name was not Twin but sounded like it, and so it was adopted as a nickname.
#5: Thomas was the brother of Jesus, but not his twin, and the author of the book of Jude.
I believe that there were additional theories I came across in my research but which I cannot now find. If I come across them, I’ll come back to add them.
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