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)