This coming Sunday is the 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday. The gospel is taken from John 20:19-31, the scene in the Upper Room on the evening of the Resurrection. In today’s post we briefly consider: “…do not be unbelieving, but believe” as we consider the verses popularly knows as the “Doubting Thomas verses”
24 Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book. 31 But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
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, but 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. Similarly, to ask the question can point to a desire to be sure. All this points 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?
Perhaps one might see this text in the light of William Barcley’s commentary on these verses:
There is more ultimate faith in the man who insists on being sure than the man who glibly repeats things which he has never thought out, and which he does not really believe. It is doubt like that which in the end arrives at certainty…. Thomas doubted in order to become sure; and when he did become sure, his surrender to certainty was complete. If a man fights his way through his doubts to the conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord, he has attained to a certainty that the man who unthinkingly accepts can never reach.
Paul Tillich also notes (source unknown): “The old faith must die, eaten away by doubts, but only so that a new and deeper faith may be born.”