If Christian Faith in God is grounded upon reason, as I have talked about in previous videos, then how do we understand Thomas’s doubt and the way Jesus appears to have chastised him for refusing to believe the resurrection unless he could see for himself?
In John 20, it says that Jesus was resurrected after he was nailed to the cross and died. He appeared to most of his disciples, but Thomas wasn’t there. So they tell Thomas. But then “doubting Thomas” said in John 20:25 [ESV], “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.” Then Jesus appears, he allows Thomas to do all those things. Thomas believes and says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus says, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It sounds like Jesus is saying, “Really, Thomas? If only you believed without reason. That would have been better!”
But is that what’s really going on?
We are inclined to challenge this interpretation because of everything else going on around it.
First, we have already read that Jesus appeared to the rest of his disciples, even showing his hands and his side, and thus they believed [John 20:19-23]. So Thomas’s experience onto belief is hardly any different from the rest.
Second, though Thomas’s demands seem a bit aggressive, Jesus is fully willing to satisfy them. That’s telling for how we should think about this story.
Third, a lot of other translations do not have Jesus asking Thomas a question. Rather, it’s a statement: like the NIV: “Because you have seen me, you have believed.” [John 20:29a NIV] The original Greek in that time period would not have included question marks, and so it’s a perfectly valid way to interpret and translate this. In fact, many commentators prefer this approach. So Jesus is not expressing disappointment at Thomas though a rhetorical question. He is confirming Thomas’s faith.
And then look closely at the blessing Jesus gives: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. [John 20:29b]
He’s not saying blessed are those who have no reason to believe and yet have believed. It’s a blessing for those— unlike Thomas or any of the other disciples—who have not seen. I stress this because Jesus knows that as far as belief goes, his disciples had it easy. They were able to see Jesus die and come back to life. That in itself is not bad. Jesus wanted that! In fact, just in the next verse it says that Jesus performed even more miraculous signs in their presence. But then there are people like us who have not seen and have not had that experience of being with Jesus and touching his side and all that. Our believing of Jesus is in the testimony of others who passed down what began with the disciples. In fact, the next thing you read is verse 31 where it says, “But these are written that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, and Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
Long story short: read the whole book of John. Read the testimony! See for yourself how well the story checks out. Don’t be shy about thinking rationally about the claims made by the writers. And listen to the testimony of Christians today who claim to have experienced Jesus transforming their lives.
One final point about how to understand Thomas’s doubt…
Thomas may have been the last disciple to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but he was also the first one to really “get it.” Here he calls Jesus, “my Lord and my God!” [John 20:28] This is the climax of where John’s testimony was intended to take us. And it comes through Thomas! I can’t help but wonder if Thomas arrived at this high theology of Christ because he had the courage to press these questions harder than anyone else.