So I send you: believing

john20 v21Thomas. Although many translations include “doubt” in v. 27 — and thus lead to the phrase “Doubting Thomas,” but there is no Greek word for “doubt” in the verse. The phrase do not be unbelieving, but believe contrasts apistos and pistos — the only occurrence of both these words in John. Simply put, the word does not mean “doubt” and Greek does not lack the equivalent words: diakrinomai, dialogismos, distazō, dipsychos, aporeō, and aporia. Lowe and Nida (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains) give three definitions for the adjective – pistos.

  • pertaining to trusting — one who trusts in, trusting
  • pertaining to being trusted — faithful, trustworthy, dependable, reliable
  • pertaining to being sure, with the implication of being fully trustworthy — sure

Thus apistos would be “not having trust or faith or certainty.”

Questioning God is an aspect of faith. If one is asking God questions or seeking answers from God, there is an intrinsic faith present. To ask the question implies a fundamental trust that if an answer is given that it will be correct. Similar, to ask the question can point to a desire to sure. All this point to a “becoming” (a valid translation of the verb being used). Thomas seems to be at a crossroads in his life. What will he become? What adjective will describe him: trusting or not, faithful or not, certain or not?

John Westerhoff III in his book Will Our Children Have Faith offers a model of becoming in faith that may shed some light on Thomas’ evolving faith (found in Brian Stoffregen’s text)

(1)  EXPERIENCED FAITH (preschool and early childhood) — imitating actions, e.g., a child praying the Lord’s Prayer without understanding the meaning of all the words — “This is what we do. This is how we act.”

(2)  AFFILIATIVE FAITH (childhood and early adolescent years) — belonging to a group, which still centers on imitating what the group does — “This is what we believe and do. This is our group/church.”

(3)  SEARCHING FAITH (late adolescence, young adult) — asking questions, “Is this what I believe?” Thomas is our example of this. He will not blindly accept what others have said, but needs to find certainty for himself. This stage of faith is adding the “head” to the “heart” of the earlier stages. This is a point at which many young adults drop-out as well as when many are recruited to causes and cults

(4)  OWNED FAITH (early adulthood) — this stage comes only through the searching stage. After exploring the question, “Is this what I believe?” one, hopefully, discovers a Christian answer that declares: “This is what I believe.”

The Thomas scene ends with an “owned faith” and a personal confession: “My Lord and my God” — a confession we don’t hear from any of the other disciples who did not go through the same questioning as Thomas. However, this is the strong, personal faith that one witnesses to and one is willing to die for.

The Ninth Beatitude. In response, Jesus told Thomas, Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. Thomas came to believe because he saw the risen Lord, but Jesus did not praise Thomas’ pathway to faith; rather, he pronounced a blessing upon those who have not seen the risen Jesus yet have believed in him nevertheless. These are those who hear or read the witness to Jesus borne by the disciples and confirmed by the Spirit (15:26–27). This is the second pronunciation of blessing by Jesus in the form of a beatitude in the Fourth Gospel (cf. 13:17: “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.”)

Now Jesus did many other signs. Verses 30–31 form a conclusion, the ending to the original edition of the Gospel. What the evangelist has written — which is not all that he could have written — is meant to urge and strengthen belief in Jesus as the Christ — and as the Son of God. John has already given us this profession in 11:27 on the lips of Martha in the context of another raising from the dead. To live, to really live, is to believe this: that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah. Vere homo, vere Deus. Truly man, truly God.

..that through this belief… John’s theology becomes evident through observing the reactions of the participants. How do they arrive at belief in the risen Lord?

  • In the opening scene, Mary, a minor character, sees the stone moved from the tomb. Her reaction is the natural one: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb” (v. 2). She does not yet believe.
  • Peter and the Beloved Disciple, the central actors, proceed to the tomb with haste (and hope). They see the burial clothes and head wrapping. Peter remains perplexed, but the response of the Beloved Disciple is one of faith. “He saw and believed” (v. 8). This loved and loving disciple saw only the minimum yet believed.
  • In the following scene (vv. 11–18), Mary now becomes a major character. She still holds the natural explanation (vv. 13, 15 repeat the substance of v. 2). She comes to faith only when she has heard (v. 16) and seen the Lord (v. 18). Jesus’ sheep recognize his voice (10:4).
  • The disciples, introduced in Scene 2, become central in the scene that follows (vv. 19–25). Beginning in a state of fear, they pass from fear to joy “when they saw the Lord” (v. 20). For them, too, faith comes through seeing.
  • Thomas, a minor character in verses 19–25, becomes central in the final scene. His stance is one of extreme incredulity. He will not believe unless he sees and touches (v. 25). And so Jesus invites him to faith through sight and touch (v. 27).

The evangelist is reviewing all these varying reactions and possibilities for people of his own time. What will be their reaction, continued reaction, to the resurrection? Will it be the perplexity of Peter? Will it be that of the Beloved Disciple, who, united so intimately with his Lord in love, believed immediately with minimum evidence? Will it be that of Mary Magdalene and the other disciples, who believed only when they saw and heard? Will they be like Thomas, who refused to believe unless he saw and touched, unless placed in a position in which unbelief became impossible? The evangelist is saying to his own fellow Christians: “Those first disciples were by no means exemplary, nor was their situation so fortunate. Faith was almost forced upon them. That is not something to be envied. Our own situation can be more positive, more profitable, more Christian. Let us follow the example of the Beloved Disciple, who believed with such little evidence. We can be gifted with the “ninth” beatitude: ‘Blest are they who have not seen and have believed’ (v. 29). And indeed, blest are we who, without seeing, believe in the risen Jesus, our Lord and our God.”

Notes

20:24 Thomas, called Didymus: lit. “be identical.” The Greek name is derived from the Aramaic name te’ômā’, “twin.”

20:25 Unless I see the nail marks: Thomas’ refusal to believe is expressed using the double negative (ou mē), showing he was adamant about this matter. The same double negative is used describing Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet (13:8). While it may appear that Thomas was unbelieving, more so that the other disciples upon receiving their first witness, this is not necessarily the case. Earlier references to Thomas reveal one who was dogged in his commitment to Jesus (11:16) and honest about his doubts (14:5). Thomas is the one who questions, and perhaps by his questioning comes to a deeper faith that the others.

20:26 the doors were locked…stood in their midst: This account points to a clear bodily resurrection against a docestic tendency to spiritualize the Resurrection. At the same time, the account points to a post-Resurrection body that differs from earthly life.

20:28 My Lord and my God: this forms a literary inclusion with the first verse of the gospel: “and the Word was God.” A number of commentaries note that a possible origin of the confession “My Lord and my God” is derived from a contemporaneous expression: Dominus et Deus noster; “our lord and god”) used by Emperor Domitian for himself. Domitian was emperor when John is believed to have set his gospel in final written form. It is possible that John is making things clear for who truly is “Lord and God.” And it is not Domitian, or anyone or anything else to whom/what we might give our allegiance.

20:29 Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed: This verse is a beatitude on future generations; faith, not sight, matters. This is the second pronunciation of blessing by Jesus in the form of a beatitude in the Fourth Gospel (cf. 13:17: “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it”).

20:30-31 come to believe: These verses are clearly a conclusion to the gospel and express its purpose. While many manuscripts read “come to believe” (pisteusēte), possibly implying a missionary purpose for John’s gospel, a small number of quite early ones read “continue to believe,” (pisteuēte) suggesting that the audience consists of Christians whose faith is to be deepened by the book (cf John 19:35). Perhaps, this is to read too much into the choice of tense, because elsewhere in this Gospel pisteusēte can denote both initial faith (1:7; 4:48; 6:30; 8:24; 9:36; 11:42; 19:35) and ongoing faith (11:15, 40; 13:19; 14:29), and pisteuēte is used to denote both initial faith (6:29; 10:38; 17:21) and continuing faith (6:35).

Sources

  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007) 506-7
  • Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, vol. 29b in The Anchor Bible, eds. William Albright and David Freeman (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 1018-61
  • Neal M. Flanagan, “John” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 1013-17
  • Colin G. Kruse, John: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 373-81
  • Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, vol. 4 in Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998) 529-45
  • John J. McPolin, John, vol. 6 of the New Testament Message, eds. Wilfred Harrington and Donald Senior (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1989) 256-64
  • Gail R. O’Day, John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 9, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996) 845-53

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996)

Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970

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