End of Term Assignment
The Doubt and Disbelief of Thomas the Apostle within The Gospel of John
Our history is filled with stories that define who we are, where we come from, our desires, our fears, what we are fond of or even what we loathe. They can be stories written by one individual that the world regards as works of art and insists they be engrained in the minds of students, or they can be orally passed traditions that are carried on from generation to the next. There are stories that are made into motion pictures, while there are those that are adapted into plays to entertain the elite of society. Yet, how many stories today, and those behind them, can boast of their everlasting effect on our culture, history or civilization. Only few come to mind, and among the most prominent of these is the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus, his ministry, crucifixion and resurrection. After all, this is a story that has resulted in the growth, development and spread of the most widely practiced religion in the world today, Christianity. And like any other story, there are those who believe it and those who deny it, those who assert its certainty and those who doubt every aspect of it, be it the miraculous conception of Jesus, his numerous miracles or his triumphant resurrection. And perhaps one of the most prominent examples of doubt regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the account of Thomas the disciple (in the Gospel of John) and his disbelief when the rest of the disciples tell him that Jesus had appeared in their midst when the doors were closed.
But why did John the Evangelist use Thomas as the disciple to bear this immensely important role. After all, he is not a major character in the synoptic gospels and the only mention he receives in them is when he is listed as one of the twelve disciples that Jesus chose.1 Why didn’t John choose another disciple that is perhaps more known than Thomas, for instance Peter or Matthew? Perhaps John had a purpose in doing so.
What follows next is Thomas’ famous saying, “Unless I can see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe”(John 20:24). John then goes on to say that eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them when Jesus appeared to them and spoke to Thomas, telling him to put his hands into Jesus’ side so that he may believe, to which Thomas answers Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God” after which Jesus says to him: “You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”2
Jesus’ comment on Thomas’ conversion and its close connection to the beatitude he subsequently pronounces upon those who believe without assurance of visual evidence have long served as the locus around which this passage has been and continues to be interpreted. Thomas, who is now branded “Doubting Thomas”, the infamous avatar of unbelief, is thought to serve as a foil to those who will believe according to the proper protocol and base their faith on the word alone.3 The story has come to be seen as a warning that it is wrong to require supernatural demonstrations of divine power as a basis for one’s faith.
The figure and significance of Thomas in John
Why did Thomas have to see Jesus in person to believe that he had risen? Didn’t Thomas and the rest of the disciples spend close to three years with Jesus when he was carrying out his ministry? Didn’t they see all the miracles he performed and those that he brought back from the dead? If Jesus could do all this to others, could he not do it to himself, and if so, then why would Thomas need to see Jesus and touch him to believe it was him?
The figure of doubting Thomas gives us an excellent opportunity to put our finger upon central questions of…