Was Thomas Jesus' Twin?

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Jesus, Men in the Bible


Is it possible that Thomas may have been Jesus' double (in looks) and might have been asked to die in his place?


To date, there is nothing directly that speaks to the possibility of Thomas being "Jesus' double (in looks)." The Synoptic Gospels and Acts refer to Thomas as one of the disciples. John, however, repeatedly identifies him as "Thomas, the twin." But, he does not elaborate on whose twin he is.

Recently, scholars explored the possibility that Thomas was Jesus' twin. As unlikely as this sounds, it is derived from books that were discovered at Nag Hammadi in the mid 1940s.

The Gospel of Thomas, (40-140 CE), opens with: "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." It helps to know that Didymus is the Greek word for twin; the Semitic word is Thomas. So, the only actual name here is Judas. If the writer were identified as Judas Thomas, it would be like writing: Judas, the twin. The fact that Didymus is added suggests that later readers were unfamiliar with the Semitic word thoma (meaning twin).

Another book, The Acts of Thomas (200-225 CE), states this person was the Apostle Thomas. In this book Jesus states, "I am not Judas who is called Thomas, but his brother." Yet another book, Thomas, the Contender (150-225 CE), begins by stating, "The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another. The savior said, 'Brother Thomas…now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be. Since you will be called my brother, it is not fitting that you be ignorant of yourself.' " It is, perhaps, this entry that has led scholars to think they looked alike, presuming, of course, that they were identical twins.

Many other scholars, however, have argued that "twin" and "brother" are meant metaphorically and have dismissed the whole notion of twins. And a conservative segment of Christians still maintains that Jesus had no siblings at all.

While various Church Fathers mention Thomas in their writings, nothing more is said about him being a twin, though he has unique experiences. One apocryphal book claims he was the only witness to Mary's assumption. The other apostles were present at her death, but Thomas was in India. So, he was "transported" to her tomb after the fact, whereupon he saw her ascend, dropping her girdle in the process. When the other apostles questioned his report, he showed them her empty tomb and the girdle.

One story has him going to India around 52 CE to preach Christianity. Others suggest that was about the time he was leaving India in order to continue his work in southeast Arabia. Regardless, his work involved doing miracles and baptizing many. Tradition suggests he was killed around 72 CE. Details about his death range from him being accidentally shot by a stray arrow to stoning by local priests to natural causes. Likewise, several locations have claimed his remains and built churches or memorials in his honor.

Bart Ehrman in his book, Lost Christianities, mentions that Judas Thomas might have been Jesus' twin. All of his later references to Judas are written with that presumption in mind. As recently as 2006, Pope Benedict spoke about him, but said the reason for his nickname was unknown.

Yet, this is about as far as anyone goes. No one has, as of yet, addressed any of the important questions that arise if Jesus had a twin. To recap, Jesus was born of a virgin who was impregnated by the Holy Spirit. What would this mean for a twin? One child had divine status; the other was wholly human. Did the human child also have a glimpse of divine truths? Is that why Jesus said, "…examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be…?" These are questions that are too inflammatory to explore at this point. But if Jesus did have a twin, someone might have to address them sometime.

For now, Thomas remains a person of interest because many scholars believe his Gospel predates the Synoptics. That would make him a contemporary of Jesus and, at the very least, would mean that he provides a very early glimpse into the formation of Christianity.

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