The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, February 29 2024

Faithful Thomas

The study and contemplation of Scripture is meant to be a part of everyday life, with a naturally developing familiarity with the Bible occuring. This familiarity with God’s Word is an excellent goal, but familiarity can also bring a certain level of complacency.

As we study the biblical text, we may feel over time we have developed a firm grasp on the Scriptures and their intended meanings. However certain words, phrases or preconceived notions often mentioned in theological conversations may become intermingled with the text itself, making it hard to remember exactly what is Scripture, and what is not.

Feeling as if we know Scripture so well there is no need to analyze the text critically can inhibit us from understanding what is actually written.This issue doesn’t just have the potential for us to make assumptions about biblical lessons, it can also cause us to gloss over biblical characters by painting them with inaccurate broad strokes.

Abraham is known as “the man of faith,” and David is known as “a man after God’s own heart.” Both descriptors are true, but when not accompanied with critical thinking and study, could cause us to forget these men were both human. They had moments of faith and strength, and moments of doubt and weakness. For example it wasn’t just Sarah who laughed at the idea of having a child in old age. Genesis 17:17 tells us, “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Many are also familiar with the phrase, “Don’t be a doubting Thomas!” This references the Apostle Thomas, who in John 20:25 said he wouldn’t believe Christ had risen unless he had some concrete proof. He wanted to literally feel the wounds of the crucifixion. However a closer look at all accounts about Thomas and his “moment of doubt” reveals this descriptor of Thomas is incorrect. Other accounts about Thomas give us a better understanding of his character.

In John 11, just prior to Jesus resurrecting Lazarus, the Apostles were aware if Jesus returned to Judea he would most likely be stoned, so they all tried to dissuade Him from returning. Thomas, however, makes a bold claim: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). He believed so strongly in the God-given power of Jesus he wasn’t as afraid of the idea of dying as the other disciples were. In this case Thomas showed incredible boldness and faith in Jesus Christ.

In another account Christ had warned His disciples in Matthew 24 about the end of the age and His second coming. He told them false teachers would arise attempting to deceive the elect into following false messiahs saying, “Therefore, if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or, ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:26). Therefore when the other disciples came to Thomas saying they had seen the risen Christ, it seems that part of Thomas’s doubt was fueled by a desire not to be deceived, as Jesus had warned them.

Obviously, Thomas’ stubbornness and overconfident speech is not to be emulated, and the account of his meeting the risen Christ is cautionary. However, a parallel account of Jesus' appearance to His disciples in Luke 24:38-40 gives us more information about this incident. In this account Jesus reveals He knew all the disciples were struggling with doubt about Him being risen from the dead: “And He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.”

If we read these accounts in Luke 24 and John 20 as a harmony, we see Jesus’ admonition to Thomas is not necessarily a scolding, or even directed only at Thomas—but at all the disciples who also needed evidence to be convinced of the resurrection. If anything Thomas’ immediate and decisive declaration of “My Lord, and my God!” (John 20:28) at the conclusion of the account shows a teachable heart and a willingness to change his doubt into belief that isn’t as strongly documented with the other disciples.

When we read the text in context the preconceived notion that Thomas’ overarching characteristic was doubt is expelled. To continue calling Thomas, “Doubting Thomas,” requires we call all of the disciples doubting as well. It would also require us to take all people who have ever had doubt (including faithful Abraham and ourselves) and label them as doubters as well.