Above: Exterior Statue of St. Thomas the Apostle from St. Thomas Catholic Church, Hyde Park, Chicago, Illinois
Defending “Doubting Thomas”
APRIL 27, 2014
APRIL 23, 2017
Acts 2:14a, 23-32 (New Revised Standard Version):
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them…”You that are Israelites, listen to what I say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know–this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. For David says concerning him,
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh see corruption.’
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”
Psalm 16 (New Revised Standard Version):
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
1 Peter 1:3-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith– being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire– may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
John 20:19-31 (New Revised Standard Version):
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
My father served as pastor of Cook’s Union United Methodist Church, about eight miles outside Colquitt, Georgia, in Miller County, from June 1985 to June 1986. One Sunday morning during that year, a laywoman whose name I forget delivered a children’s sermon about St. Thomas. She held a small book about the Apostles. You, O reader, might have seen this book or even own a copy. It features color paintings of each of the main Apostles with a brief profile on the facing page. The book is thin, with a two-tone hard cover. The church member explained that Thomas had doubted the resurrection of Jesus and that he had later taken the Gospel to India, where he died for the Christian faith. So, she said, Thomas was not all bad.
But Thomas not all bad, anyway. The presumption behind her concluding statement was that the Apostle’s doubt constituted a great stain on his character. This was a great misunderstanding.
Let us back up for a few moments, though.
St. Thomas was a twin, hence the Greek designation Didymus, which means “twin.” The canonical Gospels contain few details about him, and he did not write the Gnostic, non-canonical Gospel of Thomas. (I have read the Gospel of Thomas in three translations, and think that its non-canonical status is proper.) St. Thomas traveled through Persia all the way to India, where he introduced Christianity to the subcontinent by the 50s C.E. The modern-day Mar Thoma Church is the heir of this efforts. In India the Apostle met his martyrdom by spearing at Madras; Mylapore is his burial site. Today one can visit his tomb at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas at Mylapore.
St. Thomas was a healthy skeptic. The resurrection was hardly a frequent event, so doubting it was natural. The Apostle was not the only follower of Jesus at the time to harbor doubts. The canonical Gospels indicate that St. Peter was initially skeptical, too. Yet I hear about Doubting Thomases, not Doubting Peters. Anyway, St. Thomas, the healthy skeptic, believed the evidence when he saw it, and dedicated the rest of his life to telling people about Jesus.
I am sufficiently a product of the Enlightenment to accept the premise that doubt is a legitimate path to knowledge. I ask questions when I harbor doubts, and I seek answers when I ask questions. Thus I increase the probability of finding answers when I experience and embrace doubt. Thomas admitted his doubt, received his answer, accepted it, and lived accordingly.
So, let us treat the label “Doubting Thomas” as a great compliment.
Finally, a personal note: St. Thomas is my favorite Biblical figure. He was an honest doubter and seeker, a good skeptic. So am I. If I were a Biblical character, I would be St. Thomas the Apostle.