Doubting Thomas: our doubts about the story


Scripture: John 20: 19-31 Nigel Bunce

The Gospel writer John explained that he wrote his Gospel in order for us to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. So how much liberty did he take in presenting the story of Thomas’s coming to faith. Image: Caravaggio, “The incredulity of Thomas”

Context of the story

This Scripture takes place on the evening of the Resurrection. It is in three parts. (1) Jesus appears to the disciples with Thomas absent. (2) The scene repeats a week later with Thomas also present. (3) The author’s purpose in writing this Gospel. In my mind, they are linked.

John’s Gospel differs from the Synoptics in depicting Jesus as very other-worldly. He is one and the same as the Father, and has existed in that form since the beginning of time. This makes it harder to see the human side of Jesus. He is a long way from the traditional Jewish Messiah, God’s anointed one on earth. This makes us strain to take today’s story literally.

Ways to interpret the story, and the author’s agenda

Recall that last Sunday, Jan said that we might understand the Resurrection either as literal truth, or truth in mythical or parable-like form, with the truth hidden underneath the apparent story.

John tells us that his purpose in writing the Gospel was to convince us that Jesus was the Messiah. By his own admission, he was not an objective writer. This was not what we 21st century Canadians would call an historical account.

I could easily imagine that John made up details like the room being locked, and the second episode where Thomas was also present. We would then have the following bare-bones story. Jesus appeared to the disciples in their meeting house on the evening of the Resurrection. This convinced them that he had indeed returned.

Therefore, either we read this literally. Or, we follow Jan’s train of thought, and wonder whether it was a vision in which they had a strong feeling or intuition of their Teacher’s presence. Like, as Jan said, St. Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ.

However, all this is conjecture. Personally, I can accept it as a mystery.