Thomas the Twin

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Apocryphal/Apocalyptic Writings


I've heard several people say that scholars think the author of the Gospel of Thomas was Jesus' twin brother. Why on earth would anybody think that?


Let's begin by saying the jury is definitely still out on this one. However, there are a few valid reasons for making such a claim. Most are based on written records.

Didymus Judas Thomas
The opening words of the Gospel of Thomas are: "These are the hidden words that the living Jesus spoke. And Didymus Judas Thomas wrote them down." In the original Greek version, it is written: "Judas, who is also called Thomas."

Didymos is actually the Greek word for twin; thoma is the Semitic word for twin. Thus, in the name "Didymus Judas Thomas" the only actual name is Judas. If the writer were identified as Judas Thomas, it would be like writing "Judas, the twin." The fact that Didymus also appears suggests that later readers were unfamiliar with the Semitic word thoma (meaning twin) and later editors added "didymus" to help readers.

The Apostle Thomas?
A third century Syrian document (The Acts of Thomas) identifies this person as the Apostle Thomas. An apostle by that name is also identified in John's Gospel as "the twin" (see John 11:16). This might also explain how he became known as Thomas and not Judas. [However, John 14:22 refers to "Judas (not Judas Iscariot)".

In addition, the Acts of Thomas quotes Jesus saying, "I am not Judas who is called Thomas, but his brother." Furthermore, Mark 6:3 lists Jesus' brothers as James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon – with no mention of anyone named Thomas.

Scholarly Debate
Reading these passages literally, some scholars argue that the author of The Gospel of Thomas was in deed the twin brother of Jesus – none other than Judas (not Judas Iscariot.

Other scholars, in trying to reconcile all these passages without reading them literally, think they might have been "twins" in a purely spiritual sense. They reach this conclusion for several reasons, including the point that the author of Thomas' gospel claimed a measure of apostolic authority.

However, all of these conclusions assume that the apostle Thomas was actually the author of the gospel bearing his name. This is most likely not the case.

Unknown Authorship or Date
Most scholars believe that the original author is unknown but attributed his writings to a renowned and respected author – Thomas. The date of this gospel is also unknown. However, there is evidence to believe that the text, or at least the oral tradition behind the text, originated from a contemporary of Jesus.

Fragments of the Gospel of Thomas were found at both Nag Hammadi in late 1945 and Oxyrhynchus in the early 1900s – both in Egypt. The writings at Nag Hammadi date to the fourth century. They are Coptic versions of Greek writings. Therefore, the original Greek versions predated the fourth century. The fragments found at Oxyrhynchus include the original Greek writings were from the later part of the second century.

In addition, some scholars point out that these Greek writings probably had a previous oral tradition, which might make them contemporaneous with the canonical Gospels. Most now think Thomas predated the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). If this is true, the author, was a contemporary of Jesus, and, at the very least, means the Gospel of Thomas provides a very early glimpse into the formation of Christianity.

At best, however, this is circumstantial evidence and individual readers will determine whether or not it is persuasive. It is also true that pseudonymous authors were very prevalent in the ancient world.

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