Summary: Doubting Thomas (Judas Thomas) and dealing with doubt
A defendant was on trial for murder in Oklahoma. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defense’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick. "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all," the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. "Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom." He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened. Finally the lawyer said, "Actually, I made up the previous statement. But you all looked on with anticipation. I, therefore, put it to you that there is reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty." The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty. "But how?" inquired the lawyer. "You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door." Answered the jury foreman: "Oh, we did look. But your client didn’t."
I think that Thomas gets a bum rap. Whenever someone mentions Thomas, they don’t just say “Thomas”, they always say “Doubting Thomas” as if there were a bunch of people named Thomas in the Bible and it is necessary to say “Doubting” to get the right one. I have a news flash for you. Thomas is the only Thomas in the Bible. Thomas is enough. People also act as if this is the only passage that mentions Thomas – at least it is the only one that people seem to remember.
There are a couple other times that Thomas plays a prominent role. There is the story back in John 11 where Jesus is headed to Bethany and the disciples are afraid of the Pharisees. They know that there is a real possibility that Jesus could be killed. They are afraid, not only for Jesus, but for themselves as well. In that story, it is Thomas who speaks up and says that he is willing to go to Bethany even if it means dying with Jesus. Why don’t we call Thomas “Ready to Die with the Lord Thomas”? Why is it “Doubting Thomas”?
There is another passage coming up in John 21. A group of the disciples are out on a boat fishing. The resurrected Christ appears on the shore. It is Thomas who first recognizes him and points him out to the others. Why isn’t it “Eagle Eye Thomas”? Why must it be “Doubting Thomas”?
Even today’s passage closes with a statement of faith from Thomas. Why isn’t it “Believing Thomas”?
I guess it is sort of like the nicknames that kids get. Sometimes kids, especially around junior high, will try to come up with cool nicknames for themselves. The problem is that you rarely get to choose your nickname – it is given to you. And it is usually given to you in memory of some unflattering situation. Why else we would have folks walking around with nicknames like “stinky”? In fact, my name is really James Bruce Timothy. I might have been called Tim anyway, but my nickname sealed the deal. I was over ten pounds at birth and was immediately dubbed “Tiny Tim.”
Thomas was not always seen in a negative light. In the second and third century, people began making up their own gospels, usually to justify some odd theological viewpoint. They named these made up books after leading figures in the New Testament. There is a Gospel of Peter and a Gospel of Mary, for example. One of the most popular of these fake gospels was one called, “The Gospel of Thomas.”
But Thomas actually got even more notoriety than this. The actual historical Thomas left Jerusalem and traveled all the way to India in his efforts to spread the good news. India was viewed as a far off exotic place. Sometime in the third century, somebody wrote a collection of romantic adventure stories set in India. The unknown author made Thomas the hero in each of the stories – sort of an Indiana Jones type character. The collection came to be known as the Acts of Thomas. The work is so fictionalized that it is impossible now to know if any of the stories actually have a basis in Thomas’ actual work in India.
We all realize that “Doubting Thomas” is a nickname, but did you know that Thomas itself is a nickname? “Thomas” comes from the Aramaic word for twin. The gospels give us a Greek name for Thomas. That name is “Didymus” which is also a nickname and means “twin.” We don’t have any idea whose twin Thomas was, but I would venture to say that they weren’t both called “twin.” That would be too confusing. “Hi, my name is Twin and this is my twin brother Twin.” I don’t think so.