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In Search of the Apostles, "Thomas, the doubter?" part 1

Updated on January 14, 2017
lawrence01 profile image

Loving God and loving mankind is an important part of who I am, in these hubs we explore what it's like to really follow Jesus.

Meet Thomas

Thomas meets the resurrected Jesus
Thomas meets the resurrected Jesus | Source

The reason.

If I'm totally honest, this hub is one of the main reasons I started this series!

To find out what happened to the early followers of Jesus, especially those whom the Bible doesn't tell us about. Thomas is a classic example, the Bible tells us nothing about him after the resurrection. I've often wondered what he got up to, can some of the stories I heard actually be true? Can he really have traveled as far as they claimed, and done the things he did? And if he did, then how does that change things?

Join some with an 'Ancient' faith

My history with Thomas

He's the culprit you know! he's the one got me interested in this church history stuff! (At least I blame him, but I was probably interested anyway). Here's how it happened.

It was the mid 1980s, I'd left the British Army a couple of years before and was travelling in eastern Turkey, there were four of us, on a 'mission trip’ that in reality meant we had not the slightest clue what we were doing, but we were there 'doing it’ and found ourselves just outside a place called Mardin.

Mardin is unusual because it's the only city in the east that's Arabic speaking, and it's largely Christian, just outside the city, halfway to a small town called Midyat was an old monastery belonging to the ancient Assyrian church.

I'm pretty sure it was a Thursday morning, we'd got there early because the local Christians told us every Thursday the Bishop held a Bible study, (this was an 'ancient traditional church’ and they 'ain't supposed to do those kinda things right?)

And he'd love to meet us!

See, in some of these older 'traditional’ Orthodox and Assyrian churches they love for visitors to 'bring a greeting’ from their home church, it brings a sense of all being 'one big family’

Anyway, after the meeting, the Bishop invited us to drink tea with him, genuine hospitality that you just don't turn down in the Middle East, so we accepted.

We got talking about the monastery, that he said dated right back to the third century.

“Is that when Christianity came to this area?” I'm not sure who asked it, but the question was asked.

“Oh no,” he replied to us, “the first church here was founded by the Apostle Thomas, on his way through to India!”

Could that be true? Could this little church and monastery trace it's history all the way back to the Apostles, and to one that we don't have any records of, that is except for a couple of verses in the New testament that don't really put him in that good a light!


Where we're talking about

show route and directions
A markerMardin, Turkey -
Mardin, Mardin Merkez/Mardin, Turkey
get directions

Where we were staying. The only Arabic speaking city in Turkey, and it's still got a large Christian minority

B markerMidyat, Turkey -
Midyat, Mardin, Turkey
get directions

May only be small, but significant as it's right on the border with Syria, right where the fighting with ISIL was

St Gabriel's Monastery near Midyat in Turkey

According to Wikipedia it was founded in 397 AD. WOW!
According to Wikipedia it was founded in 397 AD. WOW! | Source

As it goes

Pretty much since that time I've been fascinated with the travels the Apostles must have made outside the Roman Empire at the time.

Remember, back then the Romans were pretty arrogant, they thought that their Empire was the civilized world, and everyone outside it was a 'Barbarian' uncultured, uncivilized and not really worth bothering about except for when you need some of their resources, then you just went and took them, by force.

In other words, pretty much like the west today.

But the Jews were different!


They were significantly different, and just like back then, when people didn't like those who were different, we don't like it today either.

A couple of hundred years before the Romans came along the Jewish nation was overrun, first by the Assyrians (from Northern Syria and Iraq, Nineveh is just outside modern day Mosul), the Babylon and finally the Persians.

The Assyrians and Babylonians had used a policy of deportation to control their populations, once they conquered you they hen forcibly displaced you from your home. The reason was that you probably worshipped a 'god' that was tied to your land, so if they deported you then they broke the ties to the local deities and would have to learn new ways of doing things, it also meant that you'd be 'good boys and girls' in the Empire, in the hope that one day you'd be allowed to go home!

The Jews were different.

They believed that one 'god' made everything, that means no matter where they were, they were still in a place he made, that meant they could worship him anywhere! Yes, they had a desire to 'go home to Jerusalem' and they still do (The passover meal used to end with the saying "Next year in Jerusalem") but they could still be Jews no matter where they went!

In Babylon, they'd developed a system of worship that didn't really need the Temple any-more, at least not as much, all they needed was twelve Jewish men and they could have a 'Synagogue' wherever they were!

Bet you didn't know the Jews went this far!

Back to reality

Remember back in the book of Acts, we've got Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem there for the feast of Pentecost. From as far afield as Rome, Babylon, Ethiopia and even Iran!

That day thousands came to faith in Jesus, but they were from all over the place! What happened when they went back home? Back to their own cities and cultures, how would they know what to believe? There weren't any books at the time, it wasn't like they could 'load up with Bibles', "Buy a few worship CDs and we'll work it out!"

Remember, these were Jews, living 'dispersed' throughout pagan lands, people whom the disciples knew were dear to God's heart (They were Jews, and God's promises to Abraham were unconditional right?"

We've got no 'record' as such of what happened, but if you think (like most western Christian books indicate) they just sat around 'on their chuff' and did nothing, then you're very much mistaken.

In the West, persecution of the Christians may have stopped with Constantine, in the East it never did!

— Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop of Mosul (Martyred in 2008 by ISIL)

What about the price of Cheese?

Okay, that's a nice history lesson, but what the heck does it have to do with the supposed subject of this hub? The Apostle Thomas.

I know that reading this hub, there are going to be those who'll think it's a nice story, some will want 'documentary evidence (especially with where I'll be going in the future showing the sheer idiocy of thinking an Emperor can control the church and 'dictate' what we believe as some claim) and there isn't any, but there's physical evidence of millions of believers (seven million in Kerala alone according to the video above) and of Jewish communities all through this region, even going as far as China by the end of the 1st century AD!

For me, everywhere I went for the next thirteen years I met Christians who traced their roots back, not to Western Missionaries, but right back to the Apostles themselves, and they'd all proudly tell me, it wasn't Peter, or Paul, or even John, but the doubter himself, Thomas, who came through and founded their church!

Thomas, the one who said, "Unless I can put my fingers in the nail holes, or my hands in his side!"

When the others said, "But we've seen him!" Thomas replied, "In your dreams!!"


Today, Christianity has become the most persecuted religion, where out of five people killed [for] religious reasons, four of them are Christians,

— Hungary’s Minister for Human Resources, Zoltan Balog

No records, but lots of traditions

That's the reality, there's no record of how the Christian faith got as far as it did, just like there's no record of first century churches in places in the British Isles, but we know from archaeology that both existed!

With the Churches in the east, we've always known they were there, we've always had little hints at their history, in the next couple of hubs we'll try and explore the journey that tradition says Thomas took and see what we might find on the way.

Leave a thought

Lawrence

What do you think

I know, 'traditions' aren't history, but do you think it's important to know your brother and sister's traditions?

See results

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    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 6 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      I'm seriously considering Linda's suggestion. Glad you're enjoying it.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 6 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Nell

      Glad it brought back some good memories. We don't really know for certain what happened to a lot of Jesus' disciples, but the idea of the hubs is to look at some of the traditions and see what we can learn from them.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 6 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      A fascinating read, Lawrence. I love the way you provide background information to help build your case, whether tradition or history. I'm enjoying this series.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 7 months ago from England

      It reminded me of the Church of Lazarus. When I went to Larnaka in Cyprus I was surprised to find the Church of Lazarus made by him after Jesus saved him. brought it all home to me the fact that the whole thing was real! this was really interesting!

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      MsDora

      Thomas was also the first to say. "My LORD, and MY GOD"

      Glad you enjoyed it.

      Lawrence

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 7 months ago from The Caribbean

      So Thomas the doubter becomes Thomas the church planter! The honest expressions of his doubt may have caused other to wonder, but Jesus knows the heart like no-one else does. Thanks for doing the research and sharing these amazing facts.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      That's a good question! The main point of difference would be that the Assyrian Church and the 'Church of the East' believe a doctrine called 'Nestorianism' (after Nestorius, the fourth century bishop of Constantinople) who taught that Christ had two separate natures, one being 'fully God' and one being 'fully man'.

      The Western church and both the Russian and Greek Orthodox believe he has just the one nature that is both 'fully God' and 'fully man' (Don't ask me to explain any more than that as I can't)

      One other point of difference that I did see a lot of when I was with these people is that in the West we used statues to tell the stories from the Bible, in the Orthodox they use 'Icons' but in the Eastern churches they revere the Bible itself (they literally worship the book, you'll often see them kiss the Bible when they take it out, and they'd be horrified at some of the practices in our churches, like marking our Bibles and putting it on the floor!)

      Hope that gives a bit more idea for you.

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 7 months ago

      Lawrence you bring up an interesting question. As far as the religious practice and the behavior or the Christians did you notice any major differences in beliefs or behavior from their Western counterparts?

    • profile image

      Norine Williams 7 months ago

      THEN; as it is TODAY, who with any "intelligence" would stoop so low as to even recognize or address such a "nut!" Just 'ignore' and 'IT' will go away; right?

      Unfortunately, the 'WORD' of GOD will NEVER go away! I'm so sorry! I literally cry when I think of how MANY "souls" don't "believe!"

      You can continue "thinking" you "believe," but until you "obey" HIS commandments, you don't love HIM (John 14:15) or KNOW HIM (I John 2:4-5)!

      Continue to "eat, drink and be merry" in your belief but I Peter 1:24-25 says "For all flesh is as grass, and all the "glory of man" as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the WORD of the LORD endureth forever. And this is the WORD which by the gospel is preached unto you."

      It's heart breaking!

      With deepest regrets,

      Norine

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Madan

      I can see where you're coming from, regarding the seemingly 'sparse' results, but there's a few things at play.

      You need to remember that persecution of Christians in the West stopped around 325 AD when Constantine passed a law 'tolerating' Christianity (he didn't actually make it the 'state religion!' That didn't happen until around 370 AD by a later Emperor.

      That was in the West, in the East persecution actually got worse then as until then anything the Romans disliked the Parthians or Sassanids (as they were then) accepted. As soon as Rome accepted it, they persecuted.

      Even in the Middle East they had three hundred years respite before Islam came along, In Iran and India that respite never came!

      As for lack of results, we know that seven churches in Kerala were founded in the first century (both tradition and archaeological evidence support this) and today there are seven million Christians trace their roots back to Thomas and the first believers in India.

      I think one reason we haven't heard of things like this, along with the persecution, that is, is the arrogance of early Catholic and Protestant missionaries who saw the Indian Christians as kind of 'semi pagan' and burned a lot of their earliest manuscripts (personally I want to build a time machine, go back and throttle those missionaries!)

      Truth is, we don't really know, but persecution did play a part in it.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Linda

      I'm still thinking about the book! I'm seriously considering when I've got the first few together, to re-vamp some of the hubs and put them out as a book, but it'll be more of an 'Inspirational' one than a study book.

      I'll keep thinking and praying about it.

      Lawrence

    • lawrence01 profile image
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      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Chris

      I think you're partly on to something there. The only thing I would say is that Acts 8 verse 1 says that the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem while the others dispersed.

      I think they saw their role primarily as teaching the new believers and as such stayed near to the main centre (they may have been in hiding as they seem to have been later).

      Acts 2 says that there were people from all over the known world in Jerusalem, not just from within the Roman world, could it be that those new believers went back to their own countries, realized they had questions (The Church at Corinth did this) so they wrote and asked the Apostles, or the leaders of the early church, or the early church heard what was happening and they sent a 'team' to investigate, just like what happened in Samaria (It was Philip to preached there, and he wasn't one of the twelve!)

      There is some evidence that Thomas, Nathaniel and Philip (the one listed in the twelve) did head out to what we now know as Eastern Turkey and from there two of them may have headed north to the Kingdom of Armenia, but we'll explore that when we get there!

      Whaddya think?

      Lawrence

    • profile image

      Norine Williams 7 months ago

      As TODAY, who "believes?"

      Another "nut" talking about some man had risen from the dead and how he had actually seen the nailprints in HIS hands and touched where the spear pierced HIS side! Really? Would you?

      As TODAY, who "believes?"

      Another "nut" talking about 'the Bible' says we should "wait" (Acts 1:4) for the "Power" (Acts 1:9) in order to receive the Holy Spirit "Promised" (John 14:26; 16:13) in order for HIM to do as HE did the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:2) for HIM to "put HIS law in our hearts and minds" (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) under the New Covenant! Who "believes?" Would you since you've been "taught" differently although 'the Bible' says so?

      Consequently, not only in India but in all of the world, "man" continues to fulfill Scripture! "...wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat."

    • emge profile image

      Madan 7 months ago from Abu Dhabi

      Very interesting about Thomas visiting Turkey. Yes, could be possible though his main destination was India. But I have another question. Thomas came to India but his result, by and large, was zero. how did this happen?

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 7 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Lawrence - I am loving this series, and the travels of Thomas are especially interesting. Although we will never know for sure, I'm convinced that he was especially driven to spread the word because at first he DID doubt. He felt he had to make amends.

      By the way, with all of your research, thought, and actual travels you might have the makings of a book on your hands.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Larry

      'Interesting perspectives' are the best don't you think?

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 7 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Lawrence, I wanted to add that I am totally jealous of the traveling you've done in these places. I may take up with Norine and head out to Turkey. What a team we'd make. Anyway, nice job on the hub. Very thought provoking.

      I do have a bit of speculation to throw out here about Thomas and the spread of the Church. He was one of the Apostles, so a year after Jesus' ascension, he was still in Jerusalem. Might it be more likely that Thomas was following in the footsteps of Christians who might have chosen to flee the empire and persecution altogether? These common Christians may have gone ahead of Thomas much like other persecuted Christians preceded Paul. Nearly everyplace Paul went, there were Christians of the dispersion who had arrived before him. But we don't remember these people, we remember Paul. In the same way, Thomas may have been following other Christians, but the Churches that resulted would have remembered the Apostle of Jesus rather than the common believers who may have arrived first. Just some food for thought.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 7 months ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Acts chapter 8 describes a brutal persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem. Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle was at the fore of the persecution. The result was the forced dispersion of Christians throughout the empire. Here is the first written record of Christianity going beyond the city of Jerusalem. And, ironically, it was Saul/Paul who was responsible, even before his own conversion. The dispersed Christians carried with them the message of Christianity. It is unlikely they would have remained silent about their faith in their new homes. Even as the Christians were being scattered, the Apostles remained in Jerusalem. This was as long as a year after the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost and possibly more than a year after Jesus said, "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But it was not the Apostles who first carried the message into the world outside Jerusalem, but the common Christians of the day.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      I think you're right on both counts there! I also found it fascinating learning a little about the culture for both the Jewish and Christian communities in India.

      I want to explore a bit more about the issues Thomas would have faced.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 7 months ago from Oklahoma

      Always an interesting perspective.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm pretty sure the early disciples didn't sit on their butts and watch reality television during the evening. We could all learn something just from their work ethic and devotion to the cause.

      bill

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      Glad you could visit, with these hubs we're going to try and follow Thomas's journey, and see what we can find support for in the historical record.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 7 months ago

      Despite what some may say the historical record is rarely complete. Legends shouldn't be taken at face value but they shouldn't be summarily dismissed either.

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      John

      Glad you enjoyed it. As I approached the idea, it just seemed right to make it more of a 'story' than than anything.

      Reality is that apart from the oral tradition passed down for two millenia, very little actually is known about him!

      I want to try and take a look at Thomas through 'eastetn eyes'

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 7 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This was very interesting, Lawrence, especially finding out where Thomas travelled and that he founded that church in Turkey. I look forward to learning more about him.

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      Norine Williams 7 months ago

      THEN "I will survive!"

      It's too bad people don't believe JESUS [is] the same yesterday, today an forever!" HE can "show" anyone if they would just "obey" HIS *last* commandment and follow "the example" the disciples did on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14)!

      Every "proclaimed" Christian say "I believe!' but do they?

      Blessings

      Norine

    • lawrence01 profile image
      Author

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Norine

      That's what happened with Thomas! I mean Jesus was dead, Thomas saw him die, then, a few days later, here Jesus is telling Thomas, "here Thomas, put your hand in here," there's a gaping (but not bleeding) wound!

      We can't turn to any 'documents' to say what Thomas did, there may have been centuries ago, but if they did, they don't now, but we do have millions of believers, all over the world who trace their history back to Thomas.

      It was awesome to walk the same streets as Thomas, and Paul, but they're dangerous places, and I'd say, "Go for it, BUT MAKE SURE YOU'RE CALLED, otherwise you might not survive!)

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • profile image

      Norine Williams 7 months ago

      I loved it!

      Once JESUS "shows one" who HE is, there's NO LIMIT what one will do for HIM!

      No one believes me! No one REALLY wants to talk about JESUS! Oh, but when *HE* "shows you" who HE is, the sky is the LIMIT!

      Great Hub! How remarkable that you actually walked the same soil as Thomas!

      I hear JESUS calling! Calling me to a traveling ministry!

      GOD bless you! Keep Pressing!