This coming weekend we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Cycle A. 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. 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?
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)
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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
- 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.
Image credit: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi), c. 1602 | Public Domain