What was a sayings collection called the Gospel of Thomas? The (Aramaic) name “Thomas” designated the author of a sayings collection used by Judean/proto-Christian congregations in the first and second centuries CE. I have an explanation that I have never seen elsewhere.
“Thomas” means “twin.” Was Thomas an “identical twin”? Imagine a synagogue leader saying “And now we will read wisdom from the Gospel of the Identical Twin.” I do not see why anyone would create the concept of “wisdom from an identical twin.” The name seems to have no value.
But the situation is different of “Thomas” was a fraternal twin. Again, imagine the synagogue leader, “And now we will read wisdom from the Gospel of the Fraternal Twin.” The name makes sense if “Thomas” designated wisdom of Gentile origin that was compatible with Judean religion–wisdom that had been born of the same mother, with different fathers. Wisdom that the synagogue leaders thought was too good to ignore, but should be acknowledged as being of Gentile origin.
Though originating as Gentile wisdom, the book itself expanded to include sayings from other sects of Judean religion (including canonical gospels). That expansion explains why there were multiple versions of the Gospel of Thomas in the Christian world. The text was not fixed; it was always under development.
The Gospel of Thomas was particularly popular in Syria. There it was ascribed to “Didymus Judas Thomas.” “Didymus” means “twin” in Greek. The Syrian name is, “Greek twin–Judas–Aramaic twin.” I suggest that the expanded name was a political compromise to acknowledge the collection’s sources in the Greek, Syrian and Judean traditions.
We can see why an editor of the Gospel of Mark, and subsequently Luke and Matthew, made “Thomas” one of the Twelve disciples in their gospels. The name is an acknowledgment of the long-standing presence of God-fearers in their congregations.
revised March 11, 2021