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  • Adam Butler

"Doubting" Thomas?

We should all avoid being like Doubting Thomas, right? Well, perhaps some context might give us a new perspective on this lesser-known disciple.

We know the story. Thomas was a doubter who needed proof of Christ’s resurrection, which proved his lack of faith, right? Well, I believe there’s more to the story.

The story being, of course, found in John’s gospel, the 20th chapter. Starting with verse 24, it says this:

“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jesus has just resurrected from the grave. The central event in all of Christianity. This is a pretty significant encounter to say the least, then, when the disciples start seeing the risen Jesus alive and well. They would have remembered that to their graves. And that’s what they did—many of them to the point of martyrdom. One of the many proofs that this story is not invented. But, I digress.

Thomas, one of the twelve, was not present during Jesus’s first appearance post-resurrection. So, needless to say, he had a few reservations about the idea that Jesus had risen from the grave, despite the fact that this is exactly what Jesus told them would happen.

So, when the disciples excitedly claim that Christ has in fact risen from the dead, Thomas famously, or infamously says, “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and place my finger in them, and my hand into his side, I will not believe.

Eight days later, Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time with Thomas present. And this time, before any of them get the chance to speak, Jesus goes to Thomas first. It’s important to note that Jesus has entered the room without using the door, by the way, so that would have been evidence enough that he was God, like he claimed. Even so, he entertains Thomas’s doubts by offering to let Thomas see and feel his wounds from the cross.

Pay attention to the text. We often hear that Thomas was rebuked for doubting. Look at the story; we do not necessarily see that. Jesus does not say “Thomas, you idiot, why won’t you just believe? What evidence do you need?”

As a side note, Jesus did, in fact, do something similar in Matthew 17 concerning an unbelieving generation, but here, his attitude is completely different.

Jesus simply offers to show Thomas the evidence he requested. He does not say “Thomas, you suck. You had to see in order to believe. You should be more like those who have never seen and still believe!” No, all Jesus says is, “you believe because you have seen, but blessed are those who have not seen, and still believe!”

So, was Thomas really a doubter who got rebuked by Jesus? I don’t think so. After all, Jesus himself promised the disciples that many would come in his name claiming to be him. He strictly warned them not to believe. Perhaps this is the reason why Thomas needed evidence. He did not want to simply believe something blindly.

In our culture, we often abuse the definition of faith. We confuse faith with hope. As a result, many people will say that the reason they believe a certain worldview or religion is “because I have faith.” But that answer does not show which view is correct!

This is not to say that it is a bad answer per se; after all, it is true that we are called to have faith. But faith is not mere wishful thinking. Faith is assurance of the things unseen. It is belief based on reason. We have faith because there is reason to believe the inspired Word of God, not despite there being none!

Another possibility is that Jesus addresses Thomas because he was in a position to where he should have been quicker to believe the disciples’ claims. He did life with them. Surely he would have known if they were making this up. Even so, Thomas needed evidence before he could accept what they said. Even so, Jesus never rebukes Thomas, he merely draws a distinction between two kinds of faith—those who have seen: such as the disciples plus Paul, and those who have not.

Why does Thomas get such a bad wrap? Part of it may be because of our culture’s negative view of doubt. But doubt can serve some good purposes.

I heard doubt personified once as a frozen river. On one side of the river, there is belief. On the other, disbelief. Doubt is like standing in between, easily sliding to one side or the other. So, the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is flat out disbelief. Thomas was in a position of doubt. He did not say that he does not believe, he said that he would not until the claims had been verified. So, maybe being a Thomas is not that bad after all. It is certainly better than being called Satan, like Peter was.

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