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Doubting Thomas (John 20:24-29)

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The short narrative of John 20:24-29 is commonly known under the title “Doubting Thomas.” Generally, it is the Gospel of John (John 11:16; 14:5) which mostly deal with the character of Thomas and especially in the case of this narration where he becomes the model of a doubting man endlessly. Nevertheless, more than his doubting, it is his witness what is important for the life of faith, in which he witnesses his own conversion-recognition.

In this phase of the Gospel of John, Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, but the apostle Thomas was not present there. Because of all the events of the last few days, it was difficult for Thomas to accept the fact that Jesus was resurrected, although the other disciples had testified this reality to him. And at this very moment, Thomas sets the only conditions that can lead him to the opposite view. Not the testimony of the apostles, but a clear physical demonstration becomes the criterion of the authenticity of Jesus’ words about his death and resurrection (John 20:25). Thus, Jesus’ call to faith, which appears throughout the gospel (John 4: 39-42, 6:29, etc.), is replaced by a tangible demonstration in Thomas’ case. In the Greek text, Thomas’ demand is further amplified by a special grammatical construction, according to which we could translate part of verse 25 as follows: “If I do not see (ἐὰν μὴ ἴδω [ean mé idó]) … [list of conditions] ... it is not possible to believe (οὐ μὴ πιστεύσω [ú mé pisteusó])” (John 20: 25b).

The whole situation turns after about a week when the disciples are again together, including Thomas (John 20:26). Suddenly, Jesus appears among them and immediately addresses Thomas. Jesus accepts Thomas’ conditions, which he spoke a week ago, and encourages him to reach his wounds after the crucifixion (John 20:27). At this moment Thomas does not need anything else. Here we reach the top of the narrative, which is contained in two statements.

The first statement is the direct reaction of Thomas: “My Lord and my God (ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου [ho kyrios mú kai ho theos mú])” (John 20:28). This reaction is one of the most striking testimonies of Jesus' divine identity throughout the Bible. In this one moment, all that Jesus has ever done and said, combines for Thomas in recognition of his divinity. It is the utter surrender of his own ideas, and Tomas accepts the reality of the Gospel that Jesus testified by his actions in the body.

The second statement is Jesus' commentary on the whole situation, which is in the spirit of the emphasis of individual stories in the Gospel. Jesus points to the fact that Thomas’ faith is conditioned by a tangible experience: “Because you have seen me, you believe (ὅτι ἑώρακάς με πεπίστευκας [hoti heórakas me pepisteukas])” but what Jesus most appreciates is not the experiential faith (empirical), but faith based on trust: "Happy, though, who have not seen and believed (μακάριοι οἱ μὴ ἰδόντες καὶ πιστεύσαντες [makarioi hoi mé idontes kai pisteusantes])” (John 20:29). The word trust is at the same time the meaning (translation) of the Greek word πίστις [pistis], which we usually translate as faith.

In the overall theme of John's Gospel, these two statements must be seen in connection with the text of John 20:31. Thus, in the Gospel of John, the dimension of faith is emphasized that is not primarily informed by experience, clearly confirming our faith, but is built on trust in the word of God.

 

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Biblical text

20:24Θωμᾶς δὲ εἷς ἐκ τῶν δώδεκα, λεγόμενος Δίδυμος, οὐκ ἦν μετ’ αὐτῶν ὅτε ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς.25ἔλεγον οὖν αὐτῷ οἱ ἄλλοι μαθηταί Ἑωράκαμεν τὸν Κύριον. δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἐὰν μὴ ἴδω ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτοῦ τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω τὸν δάκτυλόν μου εἰς τὸν τόπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω μου τὴν χεῖρα εἰς τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῦ, οὐ μὴ πιστεύσω.26Καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ πάλιν ἦσαν ἔσω οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ Θωμᾶς μετ’ αὐτῶν. ἔρχεται Ἰησοῦς τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων, καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ εἶπεν Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν.27εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ Φέρε τὸν δάκτυλόν σου ὧδε καὶ ἴδε τὰς χεῖράς μου, καὶ φέρε τὴν χεῖρά σου καὶ βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευράν μου, καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος ἀλλὰ πιστός.28ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Κύριός μου καὶ Θεός μου.29λέγει αὐτῷ Ἰησοῦς Ὅτι ἑώρακάς με, πεπίστευκας; μακάριοι οἱ μὴ ἰδόντες καὶ πιστεύσαντες.