Why Did “Doubting Thomas” . . . “Doubt”?

May 14, 2009

A Bible-Related Commentary

One of the most peculiar episodes one encounters in the gospel chronicles centers on Apostle Thomas Didymus’ startling unwillingness to believe Jesus actually arose from the dead.

“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them, Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.

Doubting Thomas - Caravaggio - 450 x 325

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.  [John 20:24-29: NASB]

Thomas’ incredulity would be perfectly understandable under normal circumstances; after all, no one truly  dead for “three days AND  three nights” is magically restored to life in reality. But incredulity would hardly be a normal reaction to the news of Jesus’ bodily return to life if what Thomas Didymus is said to have seen, heard, and experienced as a member of Jesus’ inner circle—and what we find reported in the gospel narratives—is accepted as the “gospel truth”.

To begin with, Jesus is reported to have foretold his death and resurrection in the presence of his immediate disciples on at least three  separate occasions. (And one can only guesstimate as to how many times this was done privately on an “individual” basis.*) We cite here Mark 8:31 as an illustrative example:

”And he began to teach them that the Son of Man [Jesus here referring to himself] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days be raised from the dead.”  [Cf. Matt. 16:21; 20:17-19; Luke 9:43:45; and par.: NASB]

Then there is the matter of Thomas purportedly being an eye-witness to the raising of the widow of Nain’s only son from the dead depicted in Luke 7:11-17—in addition  to the raising of Lazarus portrayed earlier in John (11:1-44).

But more astounding yet is Matthew’s clear inference that Thomas himself   had been endowed with the ability to “raise the dead” — and through Jesus, no less! (Or so the natural reading of Matthew 10:8.)  Proof positive, one would think, that Jesus’ return to life would have come as no real surprise to Thomas — or any  other apostle, for that matter. (In point of fact, they should have all  been anticipating Jesus imminent’ return with great joy! But not a single one  of them actually were, now were they? Why that is, indeed, the case, believers have to adequately and honestly explain.)

So why did “Doubting Thomas” ever “doubt” the reports of Jesus’ resurrection?

It is all but certain the episode in John’s narrative —as reported — never happened. The psychological implausibility of it occurring in light of what Thomas Didymus is said to have witnessed, experienced, and been taught as a member of Jesus’ immediate inner circle is just too great to accept at face value.

To accept John 20:24-29 as historically accurate one is compelled to discount the accounts where Thomas witnessed the widow of Nain’s son and Lazarus brought miraculously back to life, as well  as Matthew’s inference that all twelve apostles were endowed with the power to raise the dead prior to their being sent on the missionary journey discussed in Matthew, chapter ten. Accounts, we hasten to add, that should  be discounted as unhistorical in the eyes of more than a few “realists”.

The doubting Thomas story probably arose out of a need to help combat early “Gnostic” Christian belief that Jesus was not truly human but a ‘spirit,’ and as such, not possessed of a real human body. To many Christians the “risen Jesus” of the resurrection stories was no more than an apparition, a “ghost”. Something was needed to bolster a proto-orthodox belief in a bodily  risen Jesus. What better way to bolster that belief than to circulate a story wherein one of the twelve apostles, one harboring rigid disbelief in the appearance of a bodily risen Jesus, is converted to belief by a visit from an unmistakably bodily risen Jesus?

And is not the “doubting Thomas” story used for this express purpose unto this very day?

*See my ” While It Was Still Dark . . . Part III”  for more on this “prophecy” (here).

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2 Responses to “Why Did “Doubting Thomas” . . . “Doubt”?”

  1. Simple Guy said

    Did you ask yourself how Thomas knew that Jesus had holes in His hands, feet, and side? Thomas did not witness the crucifixion himself, but somehow knew about the holes from the nails and the spear. He must have heard this from others, and believed it. However, when he heard of the resurrection from the 10 disciples, he wouldn’t believe it. Maybe something is wrong with Thomas, and not with the Bible. If we’re being honest, we’ve all done contradictory things in our lives, so to use this passage as “proof” that Thomas did not perform miracles (or to discount anything else surrounding the resurrection of Christ) seems to be a stretch.

    I’m not supposing that the above will change your beliefs, but I just wanted to present another possible interpretation. Thank you for posting; I always like to hear different views.Have a great day!

    • Greywolf said

      You, no doubt, realize that Thomas would have been briefed by the apostles who “saw” the risen Jesus as to the state of his “body.”

      What you seemed to have dismissed, here, is the testimony of the gospels where Thomas is himself said to have been endowed with the power to raise people from the dead—by no less than Jesus—according to Matthew 10:8. You’ve seemed to have also dismissed Thomas being a witness to the raising of Lazarus from the dead—at the hands of Jesus, of all people.

      So again: Why would Thomas Didymus have reason to doubt if the gospel accounts are completely accurate and truthful?

      “Maybe something is wrong with Thomas …” doesn’t quite cut it. He was a member of the most intimate of Jesus’ followers. He hardly would have been an apostolic dyed-in-the-wool skeptic if Jesus, had indeed, performed the miraculous things attributed to him.

      As for the bible, it makes claims that are utterly preposterous and unworthy of belief in far too many instances. (Do you really believe Matthew 27:50-53 to be historically true, for example?)

      In all good conscience, I’m sticking to my assessment of this story.

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