Acts of Thomas

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Acts of Thomas
Eastern icon of Thomas the Apostle
ReligionChristianity (Gnosticism)
AuthorUnknown, sometimes ascribed to Leucius Charinus
LanguageSyriac, Greek
PeriodEarly Christianity

The early 3rd-century text called Acts of Thomas is one of the New Testament apocrypha. References to the work by Epiphanius of Salamis show that it was in circulation in the 4th century. The complete versions that survive are Syriac and Greek. There are many surviving fragments of the text. Scholars detect from the Greek that its original was written in Syriac, which places the Acts of Thomas in Edessa. The surviving Syriac manuscripts, however, have been edited to purge them of the most unorthodox overtly Encratite passages, so that the Greek versions reflect the earlier tradition.

Fragments of four other cycles of romances around the figure of the apostle Thomas survive, but this is the only complete one. It should not be confused with the early "sayings" Gospel of Thomas. "Like other apocryphal acts combining popular legend and religious propaganda, the work attempts to entertain and instruct. In addition to narratives of Thomas' adventures, its poetic and liturgical elements provide important evidence for early Syrian Christian traditions," according to the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

Acts of Thomas is a series of episodic Acts (Latin passio) that occurred during the evangelistic mission of Judas Thomas ("Judas the Twin") to India. It ends with his martyrdom: he dies pierced with spears, having earned the ire of the monarch Misdaeus because of his conversion of Misdaeus' wives and a relative, Charisius. He was imprisoned while converting Indian followers won through the performing of miracles.

Embedded in the Acts of Thomas at different places according to differing manuscript traditions is a Syriac hymn, The Hymn of the Pearl, (or Hymn of the Soul), a poem that gained a great deal of popularity in mainstream Christian circles. The Hymn is older than the Acts into which it has been inserted, and is worth appreciating on its own. The text is interrupted with the poetry of another hymn, the one that begins "Come, thou holy name of the Christ that is above every name" (2.27), a theme that was taken up in Catholic Christianity in the 13th century as the Holy Name.[citation needed]

Mainstream Christian tradition rejects the Acts of Thomas as pseudepigraphical and apocryphal,[citation needed] and for its part, the Roman Catholic Church declared Acts as heretical at the Council of Trent.[citation needed] See also Leucius Charinus.[why?]

Thomas is often referred to by his name Judas (his full name is Thomas Judas Didymus), since both Thomas and Didymus just mean twin, and several scholars believe that twin is just a description, and not intended as a name.[citation needed] The manuscripts end "The acts of Judas Thomas the apostle are completed, which he did in India, fulfilling the commandment of him that sent him. Unto whom be glory, world without end. Amen.".

Acts of Thomas[edit]

Thomas is martyred (background) by order of the Indian monarch Vasudeva I (foreground)

The Acts of Thomas[1][2][3][4][5] connects Thomas the apostle's Indian ministry with two kings. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but the Lord appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” But the Apostle still demurred, so the Lord overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in north-west India, where he found himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares. The apostle's ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.[1]

According to the legend, Thomas was a skilled carpenter and was bidden to build a palace for the king. However, the Apostle decided to teach the king a lesson by devoting the royal grant to acts of charity and thereby laying up treasure for the heavenly abode. Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (154–223) reports that in his time there were Christian tribes in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it.[citation needed] But at least by the year of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in north-west India comprising Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity.[2]

The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadeva, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India which dynasty? the king is not attested in historical record. It is most significant that, aside from a small remnant of the Church of the East in Kurdistan, the only other church to maintain a distinctive identity is the Mar Thoma or “Church of Thomas” congregations along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India. According to Medieval tradition of this church, Thomas evangelized this area and then crossed to the Coromandel Coast of southeast India, where, after carrying out a second mission, he died in Mylapore near Madras. Throughout the period under review, the church in India was under the jurisdiction of Edessa, which was then under the Mesopotamian patriarchate at Seleucia-Ctesiphon and later at Baghdad and Mosul. Evangelist Historian Vincent A. Smith says, “It must be admitted that a personal visit of the Apostle Thomas to South India was easily feasible in the traditional belief that he came by way of Socotra, where an ancient Christian settlement undoubtedly existed. I am now satisfied that the Christian church of South India is extremely ancient... ”.[3][6][7]


The text is broken by headings:

  • 1 - when he went into India with Abbanes the merchant. The apostles cast lots to see who will go where as a missionary. Thomas gets India, but refuses his mission, even after Jesus speaks to him. Jesus then appears in human form and sells Thomas to a merchant as a slave, since Thomas is skilled as a carpenter. Thomas is then asked if Jesus is his master, which he affirms. It is only then he accepts his mission.
  • 2 - concerning his coming unto the king Gundaphorus
  • 3 - concerning the serpent
  • 4 - concerning the colt
  • 5 - concerning the devil that took up his abode in the woman
  • 6 - of the youth that murdered the Woman. A young couple begin to have relationship problems when the woman proves to be too keen on sex, while the male advocates being chaste, honouring the teachings of Thomas. So the male kills his lover. He comes to take the eucharist with others in the presence of Thomas, but his hand withers, and Thomas realises that the male has committed a crime. After being challenged, the male reveals his crime, and the reason for it, so Thomas forgives him, since his motive was good, and goes to find the woman's body. In an inn, Thomas and those with him lay the woman's body on a couch, and, after praying, Thomas has the male hold the woman's hand, whereupon the woman comes back to life.
The story clearly has the gnostic themes of death and resurrection, death not being a bad thing but a result of the pursuit of gnostic teaching, and the resurrection into greater life, once gnostic teaching is understood.
  • 7 - of the Captain
  • 8 - of the wild asses
  • 9 - of the Wife of Charisius
  • 10 - wherein Mygdonia receiveth baptism
  • 11 - concerning the wife of Misdaeus
  • 12 - concerning Ouazanes (Iuzanes) the son of Misdaeus
  • 13 - wherein Iuzanes receiveth baptism with the rest
  • The Martyrdom of Thomas
  • Leucius Charinus

View of Jesus[edit]

The view of Jesus in the book could be inferred to be docetic. Thomas is not just Jesus' twin, he is Jesus' identical twin. Hence it is possible that Thomas is meant to represent the earthly, human side of Jesus, while Jesus is entirely spiritual in his being. In this way, Jesus directs Thomas' quest from heaven, while Thomas does the work on earth.

Also in line with docetic thinking, is Jesus' portrayed stance on sex, within the text. For example, in one scene, a couple is married, and Jesus appears to the bride in the bridal chamber. He speaks against copulating, even if it is for the purpose of reproduction.


  1. ^ A. E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.18–71 M. R. James, Apocryphal New Testament, pp.364–436 A. E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, pp.1–17, 213–97 Eusebius, History, chapter 4:30 J. N. Farquhar, The Apostle Thomas in North India, chapter 4:30 V. A. Smith, Early History of India, p.235 L. W. Brown, The Indian Christians of St. Thomas, p.49-59
  2. ^ "Thomas The Apostole". Archived from the original on 2003-06-08. Retrieved 2010-04-25.
  3. ^ name= A. E. Medlycott, India and The Apostle Thomas, fully George Menachery, Ed., Indian Church History Classics, Vol.1, The Nazranies, Ollur, 1998
  4. ^ "Thomas The Apostole in India". Retrieved 2015-08-19.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ J. N. Farquhar, The Apostle Thomas in North India, chapter 4, fully George Menachery, Ed., Indian Church History Classics, Vol.1, The Nazranies, Ollur, 1998
  6. ^ Quoted in George Menachery, "Kodungallur...", Azhikode, 1987, repr.2000
  7. ^ "books". 2015-07-05. Retrieved 2020-04-05.


Stefan Heining, Taufe statt Ehe. Ein Beitrag zur Erforschung der Thomasakten (Baptism instead of marriage. A contribution to the exploration of the Acts of Thomas), Univ. Diss., Wurzburg 2020. (urn:nbn:de:bvb:20-opus-210796;; cc-by-sa)

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