Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | April 10, 2013

Thomas the Investigator

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. 1602 painting by Caravaggio (1571-1610)

The Incredulity of St. Thomas
1602 painting by Caravaggio (1571-1610)

What does a conscientious scientist do when confronted by strong evidence that contradicts his theory? In the first century, one investigator faced this dilemma.

If ten of your best friends all told you the same thing, would you believe them? Here’s a different perspective on someone who rejected assurances from every remaining apostle about Jesus’ return from the grave.

The Apostle Thomas is a crucial figure in the New Testament.

Thomas played a vital role in verifying the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s now a week and a half after Easter, and thus it’s a good time to look at an event in the life of Thomas which occurred eight days after the Resurrection.

Thomas was not expecting Jesus to be raised from the dead. He was not hoping for it. He was not looking for it to occur. It was obvious to Thomas that Jesus was dead and gone for good.

Thomas could not even be called a skeptic about the Resurrection. He was certain it had not happened. Jesus Himself called Thomas “unbelieving” regarding the Resurrection (John 20:27).

In fact, when Thomas’ 10 closest friends assured him that they had seen Jesus, he refused to believe them. Thomas knew these men well, having lived with them for three years as they all followed Jesus throughout Galilee and Judea. He knew their characters, their reliability, their sound judgment. His companions insisted to Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” But Thomas stubbornly replied, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

Thomas could not be easily convinced. He was what lawyers call “a hostile witness.” He was adamant that he would not believe unless he saw irrefutable hard scientific evidence. This is the kind of evidence he required—actual physical proof. Even eyewitness testimony from his 10 closest friends did not move him.

Thomas wanted to see the imprint of the nails. He wanted to see the spear wound in His side. He required unimpeachable evidence in order to confirm the identity of a living person claiming to be Jesus.

Thomas’ incredulity is usually noted with smug disapproval. And yet Thomas, like a conscientious scientist, was an honest investigator. Thomas had a theory. But when Jesus presented Thomas with scientific physical evidence that He was alive by standing before him and displaying His wounds, Thomas immediately changed his mind. He worshiped the risen Lord Jesus (John 20:26-29).

Just as the media designates a pool reporter to cover events, so Thomas was the “pool scientist” on the scene in Jerusalem. Thomas represented scientists who demand clear physical proof for miracles. It took solid physical proof to convince him. It is strong evidence for the Resurrection that even disbelieving Thomas was convinced, despite his early refusal to believe.

Thomas was not a scientist according to the common meaning of the word today. He was not an operational or empirical scientist who performs repeatable experiments to test hypotheses about how the world God created works. Operational science has led to modern technology, and there’s no dispute over operational science between evolutionists and creationists.

But Thomas was involved in historical science. Historical science draws conclusions about the unobservable, untestable, and unrepeatable past from present-day evidence. This is the field of origins science—creationism and evolutionism.

Thomas had a hypothesis about a past event: “Was Jesus in the tomb or had He risen from the dead?” Thomas could not test hypotheses about the Resurrection with repeated experiments. He had to look at the evidence available and determine what was the most plausible explanation. When He saw Jesus physically standing before him and speaking to him, and when he saw Jesus’ identifying wounds, he concluded that his hypothesis had been wrong and that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead.

Scientists ought to find Christianity the most appealing religion, because Christianity is based on historical fact and physical evidence. While much of the evidence is no longer available for inspection today, we do have the compelling witness of Thomas the Investigator. Thomas demanded and evaluated scientific evidence before he would believe. Christianity is the most scientifically based of all religions.

Is the Thomas incident believable? Did it really happen? The incident is not on the whole complimentary to Thomas. It portrays him as obstinate and arrogant, taking a position which was proven to be totally in error. Indeed the narrative leaves him in a position to be remembered with disdain by the Christian church throughout the ensuing centuries. If one was attempting to manufacture evidence, this is not a likely choice to make. The narrative itself has the ring of truth, even without appealing to the inerrancy of Scripture and John’s reliability as a witness.

The evidence Thomas saw moved him from a position of determined unbelief in the Resurrection to a position of unshakeable conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead. Tradition says Thomas carried the Gospel to India and was eventually martyred in Chennai (Madras) for his testimony to the Resurrection. Thomas was willing to die for his certainty regarding Jesus’ Resurrection. No one suffers martyrdom unless he is utterly convinced of the truth of his claim.

Will you accept Thomas’ evaluation of the evidence? Say with him of Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28)

Soli Deo Gloria.

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday April 10, 2013 A.D.

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days again His disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:24-29)

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Responses

  1. You made some good points, especially that people have judged him harshly. Come on, more people are like Thomas than they want to admit. I think he was from Missouri…

    Someone pointed out this passage to give him credit for his attitude:
    So Jesus said to them plainly then, “Lazarus is dead. I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe. Nevertheless, let’s go to him.” Thomas therefore, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go also, that we may die with him.” John 11:14-16

    Also, it doesn’t say that he followed through with touching the wounds of Jesus. He was convinced without that step.

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Piltdown. I appreciate your thoughts.

      I thought about the issue you raised in the last paragraph while writing this blog post. Since Scripture doesn’t say whether Thomas did or did not touch Jesus’ wounds, I wouldn’t want to build anything on it one way or the other. However, since Jesus instructed Thomas to “Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side,” I concluded that Thomas probably obeyed and did as Jesus said.

      I think Jesus probably insisted on it to drive home the point to Thomas, just as He insisted with Peter in John 21 by asking three times “Do you love Me?” — even to the point of exasperating Peter.

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  2. The smug disapproval of Thomas always bothers me. The other 10 saw and spoke with Jesus and then KNEW He was alive. It’s not as though they believed on the testimony of friends. I doubt all of them would have. These are not the ones Jesus blesses for believing without seeing.

    Thomas doesn’t strike me as defiant in his unbelief, when shown the Truth, he immediately let go of false (but understandable) convictions. Is it better to seek convincing evidence and willingly accept it when found, or be willing to believe what your mind tells you is nonsense? Of course the most dangerous are those who defiantly refuse to accept any evidence at all.

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    • Thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comment, Linda.

      Good point about the other 10 not undergoing the same test that Thomas was given.

      Like you, I do not think Christianity is a “mindless” belief. God provides plenty of testimony to Himself in creation and through the testimony of practical down-to-earth men like the prophets and apostles. Thomas is certainly a very strong witness because of his resistance to being fooled.

      God expects us to use our minds rationally in evaluating evidence and logically to make sound conclusions. I don’t think God expects us to believe “nonsense.” He offers plenty of evidence for the honest inquirer.

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  3. Great posting Dr. Pelletier. I’ve always thought that Thomas has been judged unfairly by Christians down through the ages. He knew that a physical resurrection was just “not possible,” but when confronted with the overwhelming evidence of Christ’s appearance to him, he immediately believed, and said so very emphatically. I think in that instance he not only changed his mind, but also instantly became aware that Christ was everything that He said He was. Not just a teacher of righteousness, but God in the flesh.

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    • Thanks for reading, Lynn, and for your insightful comment. I agree with you about Thomas and especially like your point how he “immediately believed, and said so very emphatically.”

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  4. Whenever I’ve raised Thomas Didymus with Christians who ridicule skeptics for wanting evidence, they sadly go very quiet and refuse to debate the matter any further. Given how they’ll so readily dismiss something from their own religious text, then how can they expect any skeptic to believe them on any other issues?

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    • Thank you for reading and commenting.

      One of Christianity’s strengths relative to other religions is its evidence. Christians should never fear requests for evidence or questions about evidence. Christianity is rooted in historical fact. Questions give one opportunities to demonstrate this.

      Jesus Himself provided evidence to back up His claims with His miracles. He said, “The works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36)

      After the Resurrection when Jesus appeared to His disciples that first Sunday evening when Thomas was absent, John reports that Jesus appeared in their midst, and “He showed them both His hands and His side.” (John 20:20) Why did Jesus do this? Jesus was providing evidence to convince them of His identity; He was the Jesus whom they had seen crucified but who was now alive. It would be like showing a driver’s license today to confirm identity.

      Luke reports that Jesus “presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days.” (Acts 1:3) Jesus presented lots and lots of evidence, only some of which is recorded in the New Testament.

      Jesus understood that His disciples would naturally be skeptical about His Resurrection, and they certainly were. He met their skepticism with overwhelming evidence that convinced them He was alive. Christians today accept the testimony of those early skeptics and witnesses.

      The Apostle Paul appealed to creation as evidence for the existence of God. Paul wrote, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” (Romans 1:20)

      Christians should welcome requests for evidence and questions about evidence. (My next series after the current Tower of Babel series will be on Evidence for God.)

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      • Then it baffles me why, those Christians I have spoken to are unable to defend their beliefs, if as you say here there is plenty of evidence. Isn’t there a line in the New Testament that says they should do so? I’m agnostic by circumstance (the details of which are too many to go into here) and have yet to find any evidence to satisfy me that the universe was created by the conscious actions of a supernatural entity, or that this entity takes a personal interest in every single thing it created, or that it manifested in human form and worked miracles. I apologise if this stance offends anyone reading this, but that is my position.

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        • Simon, thanks for your candid comment. There’s no need to apologize for an honest, respectful comment or question. Those are always welcome, be they from a Christian or an agnostic. Many Christians are former agnostics who eventually had their questions answered satisfactorily.

          You are right–the New Testament does instruct Christians to always be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)

          But Christians aren’t perfect. We’re sinners and fall short of God’s requirements many times every day. So I’m not surprised you’ve run into some who are unable to answer you, despite the Scriptural injunction.

          Maybe you’ll find something someday in this blog that will help answer some of your questions or objections to Christianity.

          I am curious to know what evidence would satisfy you that there is a Creator. What evidence would make you think that a “Creator” is a more plausible or reasonable explanation than a “no Creator” explanation for the universe?

          Notice that I said “plausible or reasonable.” This is something that cannot be absolutely proved. But very little can be absolutely proved. Most decisions are based on what’s most reasonable or plausible.

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