Doubting Thomas or Honest Tom?

This reflection is by Seán Mullan, from Irish Bible Institute, and he reflects with us today on Thomas, the famous doubting Thomas.

Only two of the twelve apostles have names and reputations strong enough to be a part of modern parlance. “You Judas,” is a title reserved for betrayers. And the dubious sceptic is a “doubting Thomas.” No doubt, Thomas would prefer his epithet to that of his companion. But a recent reflection from the woman of my life made me realise that Thomas’ bad press is unjustified. I propose we rename him, “Honest Tom.”

Even readers who don’t know the Scriptures will probably know the Thomas story. Not part of the group who first saw Jesus alive after he was crucified, he stated that he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he saw the crucifixion wounds and touched them.

Often read as a statement of defiance – “I refuse to believe” – it could just as easily be read as a statement of self awareness. Perhaps Thomas was saying that he knew himself well enough to know that he would require in order to believe the unbelievable. Thomas knew where he was as regards the faith issue and wasn’t afraid to say so.

His friend Peter did not have a similar self-awareness. A few days earlier Peter had rejected Jesus’ warning that he would deny him. “Never” was his response. But within hours he was doing just that – not once but three times. Peter’s words, though admirable, were not backed up by an understanding of where he was. Thomas, on the other hand, was under no illusions about his own spiritual resources. “Here’s what it will take for me to believe!” And that’s exactly what Jesus gave him.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned in the Thomas approach. In Ireland when asking for directions I have more than once been told that “if I was going to ‘such and such’ I wouldn’t start from here.” Which is all well and good but not a lot of help!

And when it comes to the possibility of starting, or changing, a relationship with God we tend to take the same approach. “I’m not really religious.” “That’s not for people like me.” “I’m not in a good place.” “I don’t think God would be too impressed with me right now.”

The Thomas way presents an alternative approach. “Here’s where I am right now.” “Here’s what it would take for me to believe and commit.” The Thomas approach certainly didn’t faze Jesus. He turned up a second time, looked at Thomas and told him, “Come on; look and touch.” It was what Thomas needed. Complete belief and absolute commitment followed: “My Master! My God!”

If you ever get tired of the waffle that so often passes for honest reflection these days, then consider that maybe God feels the same. And a little bit of straightforward inner honesty might be just the point at which to start, or restart, a process of engaging with him. Sure where else are we going to start from?

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Mark Edward

    Something I’ve occasionally wondered is why Thomas seems to have been a significant figure in the early Church, and how the gospel of John might be related to that. I heard it suggested once (I forget where) that the gospel of John included semi-disparaging accounts of Thomas as a response to other literature that played him up as a ‘superapostle’ kind of guy, e.g. the so-called gospel of Thomas, or works that identify his ‘twin’ as being Jesus himself. The thing is, this would require the gospel of Thomas (and maybe other works) to have been written before the gospel of John, which doesn’t seem to be the case as far as I know.

  • http://godswordourwordsandtheworld.blogspot.com Lee Wyatt

    I call him “Pouting Thomas.” It seems he’s really demanding an experience similar to what the other apostles had received. And until he gets it, he’s not going to believe their word. Which is, of course, John’s point in context – that we should receive the word of the witnesses to Jesus.

    Lee

  • Chris Thomas

    I’ve often wondered if Thomas had Jesus’ warning in Mark 13 (paralleled in Matthew 24) in mind when he asked to see Jesus’ wounds. Jesus says there: “And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look! There he is!’—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be alert; I have already told you everything”
    Perhaps Thomas wanted to be sure this indeed was Jesus and not a false Messiah?
    I realize John is relatively independent of Matthew and Mark , but if we take the whole narrative presented in the gospels as a unit I think it does present a possibility (even if it isn’t a strong one).

  • Steve Sherwood

    I think it’s significant that immediately after relaying this story, John states that there were many things Jesus did that were not included in this book. Of the multitude of things that COULD be told, he felt it important to tell of a doubter whom Jesus takes seriously and responds to compassionately. Jesus seems to have been ok with Thomas’ doubt, maybe he can enter into ours in the same way.

  • Stephen W

    The thing that always seems to go unnoticed in Thomas’ statement is that he is the first person to equate Jesus with God (or at least the first to vocalise the idea).

  • gingoro

    Thanks Seán for your posts on Jesus Creed. I for one would like to see a series of posts on the state of Christianity in Ireland, both South and North, both Protestant and RC. My mother’s people fled the potato famine in 1860+-10years. They came by boat to New York and then to Quebec. Later my mother’s great… grandfather moved to Ontario where they bought land from the Canada Corporation. A Anglican priest, friend of ours, teaches NT in the local RC seminary, things certainly changed in North America in the last years from what it was like 60 years ago where there was little or no contact between the RCs and Protestants, at least where I live.
    Dave W

  • Jerry

    I actually preached a sermon I called “Believing Thomas” and said that we are all are a bit like Thomas. We don’t have the advantage of the other disciples. We need to harken to the words of John 20:30-31.

  • http://believing-thomas.com Tom Welch

    I happen to think Thomas gets a bad rap. Instead of pouting Thomas, how about Brave Thomas? While the rest of the disciples were locked in the room for fear, Thomas was out, perhaps fetching supplies for his “believing” brothers.

    Thomas didn’t doubt any more than the others had prior to their own physical encounter with Christ. What he doubted was his friends’ testimony, which places Thomas shoulder to shoulder with most of our neighbors today.

    May we each be a Believable Thomas.

  • Justin

    This conversation reminds me of an exchange from Lost:

    Ben Linus: Thomas the Apostle. When Jesus wanted to return to Judea, knowing that he would probably be murdered there, Thomas said to the others, “Let us also go there and we might die with him.” But Thomas was not remembered for this bravery. His claim to fame came later when he refuses to acknowledge the resurrection. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around it. The story goes that he needed to touch Jesus wounds to be convinced.

    Jack Shephard: So was he?

    Ben Linus: Of course he was. We are all convinced sooner or later, Jack.

    May we all be so brave.


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