Prior to becoming a Christian, I did not know where the phrase “doubting Thomas” came from. It was only four years ago that I first heard in church the relevant passage, which is John 20:24-29. The Apostle Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared to His disciples after the resurrection. When the others told Thomas what had happened, he refused to accept it and insisted that he wouldn’t believe until he saw Jesus and felt the wounds from the crucifixion with his hands. Eight days later Jesus appeared and satisfied those demands; from that point onward, Thomas believed.
The rest of the life of Thomas is not recorded in the Bible but there are fascinating clues. Tradition has it that after spending a few years founding the Jerusalem church, the apostles went there separate ways, following the commission of Jesus to spread the gospel everywhere. Some of the stories are probably apocryphal, such as the tales of Matthew visiting Ethiopia, Andrew going to Britain and Scotland, and Simon the Zealot crossing much of Africa. Others are more believable, such as the idea that James brought the gospel to Spain before being martyred. In the case of Thomas, all the evidence points to him heading eastward from Palestine, crossing the Middle East on foot and finally reaching India.
As always, some dismiss the claim as nonsense and complain about a paucity of historical evidence. Indeed, we might say that they are doubting Thomases concerning doubting Thomas. However, by the standards of ancient history the evidence for Thomas visiting India seem strong. We have a work about Thomas’s adventures, called the Acts of Thomas, dating to about the year 200 A.D. After that several church fathers mentioned the fact and it seems to have become a standard part of church tradition. In contrast to that, information about the wanderings of the other apostles mostly comes from several centuries later. In addition to being early the evidence for Thomas visiting India is consistent; no source reports him traveling to anywhere else. Some will claim that the Acts of Thomas is itself nonsense and that later references were probably based on that. However, some tantalizing, if tentative, evidence has been provided from archaeology. Coins and other inscriptions testifying to the existence of King Gondopharses, a major character in the Acts, have been founding northwestern India. Evidence from architecture shows that there was active trade between India and the Roman Empire and even Jewish communities dotting the Indian coast in the first century. A surviving church in Kerala, India, believes by tradition that it was founded by Thomas, as do several churches in the Middle East.
In the end, though the evidence leans towards the tradition being genuine, we’ll probably never know the details of his journey. We can, however, take comfort in the prayer of Saint Thomas:
Almighty and everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas With sure and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.