Thomas is my favourite character in the Bible and I think he has a very unfair reputation. Given the nickname “doubting Thomas”, he is held as an example of someone who lacked faith and that we shouldn’t be like him in needing evidence to have faith. I think Thomas is precisely who we need to be like.
The main story that got Thomas his reputation is documented in Johns gospel (John 20:19-31) but I don’t see why Thomas is singled out or showed a lack of faith:
– All the disciples needed to see Jesus and his wounds before believing he had been raised from the dead (John 20:19-20)
– Thomas only doubted what the other disciples told him (John 2o:24-25)
– Jesus allowed Thomas to face his doubts and gave him the evidence he needed (John 20:26-27)
– Thomas was able to come to a place where he could make a declaration of faith because of what Jesus did (John 20:28)
There is a reference in Mark that Jesus chided them for their lack of faith (Mark 16:14) but this passage does not appear in earlier manuscripts or earlier witnesses. So what did Jesus mean by “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”? It’s often taken to mean that we are to just believe by faith alone with no evidence. No one believed Jesus had raised from the dead until they saw him, which seems a very obvious and natural statement to make but seems to get overlooked. The disciples and Thomas saw Jesus after he was raised and did believe. Not every Christian has actually met Jesus yet we believe. Yes, Thomas doubted the other disciples but when he got the evidence he acknowledged who Christ was. On the flip side though, in John 14:8, Philip asked for more evidence about who Jesus was. Jesus answered that he should have had enough evidence since he saw him (John 14:9). Jesus also made comments about the miracles he’d done but people still did not believe. He gave them the evidence, they saw what he did and still did not believe.
Jesus responding to 2 apparently identical statements very differently is not unique to this story. In John 13:37, Peter says he will lay down his life for Jesus yet is rebuked for it with Jesus saying Peter will disown him before the rooster crows 3 times. When Thomas states that the disciples should go with Jesus so they may die with him (John 11:16), Jesus doesn’t rebuke him. Admittedly it’s not documented in the account what Jesus’ response was, the account picks up with them on their way to Lazarus’s tomb but it shows Thomas has no doubts regarding Jesus, he was willing die with him. I’m sure this is a trait of Thomas we should be looking to be like, but what Thomas does here often gets overlooked. He is doing exactly what we all should be. Either side of the incident with Peter, were 2 further questions from the disciples to Jesus; 1 from Simon Peter and the other from Thomas again. Neither were met with the admonishment that was dished out to Peter (John 13:36 and John 14:5-6) Jesus answered their questions in his usual way; not a straight answer and one that seemed to go over the disciples heads.
A clue as to why Jesus treated these very differently may lie in 2 stories in Luke; The priest Zechariah (some translations have Zacharias) and Mary. Both are visited by Gabriel, both are told they will have a son and both ask how it is possible. The responses they get are very different. Zechariah/Zacharias is struck dumb by Gabriel (Luke 1:5-25), Mary gets an answer from Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38). Zechariah/Zacharias was a priest, he believed in God and Luke says he was righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. Yet he still didn’t believe when he was told he would have a son. He wanted more evidence like Philip did. Mary wasn’t any of that and she started with no evidence so Gabriel laid it out for her. How the questions were dealt with depended on our starting point. It does seem that at some point, God goes “you’ve had enough evidence” and no evidence will ever be enough for some people.
None of this equates to Jesus wanting us to believe without evidence. John 20:30-31 essentially tells us that he wrote his gospel so that we have evidence so that we can believe. Luke opens his gospel with a similar thing. We all need something; some just need the Bible, others need more but we all need something. Without evidence, you cannot say that the Koran is wrong or that atheism is wrong. Without evidence, you can’t even determine that anything is wrong. We don’t need to go to the opposite extreme of needing absolute certainty for everything. As for Thomas himself, was killed in India whilst spreading the gospel, but little else is known about him. Apart from the list of disciples he is only mentioned in Johns gospel. He asked for clarification when unsure, evidence when confronted with an extraordinary claim, but had no problems with being willing to die with and for Jesus as and when it became necessary. He balanced his doubts with his commitment to follow Christ, which is something many Christians struggle with, but the Thomas story shows that Jesus will allow us to confront and overcome those doubts with evidence and our faith can be stronger for it.
Lets all be a bit like Thomas.