Was Thomas’s Doubt Reasonable?

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Doubting Thomas

Was he right to say this? Thomas didn’t tell us his epistemology. We don’t even know his attitude as he said those words. I suspect he was trembling, not indignant.

Was Thomas being reasonable? It seems ambiguous.

In one way Thomas had more reason than us to believe the claim of the other disciples: he had known Jesus in person and seen him work miracles. He had heard Jesus predict his own death and resurrection. With the other disciples, he had already concluded that Jesus was the Son of God.

Also, we have seen Jesus chide the disciples on other occasions for their lack of faith (Matthew 8:26, 14:31, 16:8-11, 17:17). According to both Jesus and the Apostle John, the testimony of others is sufficient for faith (John 20:29, 31).

But in another way Thomas had less reason than us to believe. Traumatically, he and the other disciples had just seen their master murdered. They thought it could never happen. Their worldview was shattered.

Thomas asked the disciples for no more evidence than what they already had seen. It seems he doubted whether the other disciples were in the right frame of mind. Looking back, we know that the disciples truly believed in the resurrection. They showed that they were willing to live and die for it. But in the moment Thomas didn’t know that. All he had to go by was the word of a frightened and mourning group of friends claiming that a man had raised himself from the dead.

What would you have said if you were Thomas? I would have asked to see Jesus. It makes sense to ask for this. They said Jesus had appeared in the garden, on the road to Emmaus, and in the upper room. Would he appear again?

Jesus did appear to Thomas. And rightly so. Thomas was to be Christ’s Apostle. While direct experience is not necessary for future believers, it was necessary for the first ones. Someone had to see the evidence in order to report it.

The Apostle John explains, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). John has shown how the disciples came to faith, and he now shows how he expects future people to come to faith.

Jesus gave Thomas grace by revealing himself. He didn’t need to; he doesn’t owe anyone grace. If Jesus had never appeared to Thomas, and if Thomas had never believed, it would have been Thomas’ loss. John’s narrative doesn’t support the skeptical attitude that says, “Ok, then I’ll believe when Jesus appears to me.”

It is interesting to note the way Thomas came to belief. But it is of much greater importance to note the explicit point of the chapter: Jesus rose from the dead; the disciples believed; they wrote it down so that we can have life.