Faith and Doubt

Research for Sermon at St James, 12 April 2015

Acts 4:32-35; I John 1: 2-22; John 20:19-31



John likes to blame someone – he likes individuals making mistakes

David Lose blog

Here’s my simple contention about this passage: Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. Think about it. Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous. Way back in chapter 11, for instance, Thomas is the one who urged the disciples to go with Jesus to raise Lazarus even thought it might spell their deaths (Jn. 11:16). And in chapter 14, when Thomas doesn’t understand Jesus’ metaphorical speech about the place he is going to, Thomas calls him on it: “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how then can we know the way?”

Thomas, I would contend, is at heart a pragmatist, one who likes his truth straight up and who relentlessly takes stock of the situation before making a decision. You can count on Thomas, but you’d better not be false with him, because Thomas doesn’t suffer fools easily.

From this point of view, it’s interesting to me that Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples in the upper room when Jesus first appeared. Actually, I should describe it differently: Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when they were cowering in fear in the upper room. We don’t know where he was, but I’m guessing he was out getting on with his life, figuring out what was going to come next and getting on with it. Because Thomas is, first and foremost, a realist.

And this issue of having too small a vision of reality is what I find interesting. Because I also fall into a worldview governed by limitations and am tempted to call that “realism.” Which is when I need to have the community remind me of a grander vision. A vision not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation.

David Lose, President, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia

And that's what strikes me about this story: the realism. Not just of Thomas, but the realism also about how hard it can be to believe, at times. When you read through the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you quickly realize that Thomas is not alone in his doubt. In fact, doubt isn't the exception but the rule. No one -- even after all the predictions -- no one says, "Welcome back." Or "We knew it." Or even "What took you so long?" No. No one anticipates Jesus return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone.


We weren’t there, and we haven’t known the gospel as an embodied reality. But, in Thomas, our hunger is validate and confirmed. The danger for us is to over-spiritualize our faith. To leave out our hunger and our physicality. But the breath of Jesus which sends the church out also calls the church to the table. Take, eat, this is my body. Hold onto the physical blessings of being human. These, too, are the things of God.

Chris Haslam

Verse 22: “‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”: In 15:26 and 16:7, Jesus says that when he has returned to the Father, he will send the Holy Spirit. In v. 17 he has told Mary Magdalene that he has not yet ascended, so in that he now gives the disciples the Holy Spirit, the ascension has now happened. So in John, Jesus’ resurrection, his ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit all happen in the same day. But to John (and other New Testament authors) chronology is of secondary importance. In common with the authors of the synoptic gospels, John insists on the connection between the resurrection and the animation of the Church by the Holy Spirit. [JBC] Note the connection between the granting of authority and receipt of the Holy Spirit. See 16:7 for the continuation of Jesus’ ministry by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 24: In the synoptic gospels, incredulity is shared by the other disciples. [JBC]

Verse 28: “Lord and ... God”: In the Septuagint translation, theos kyrios translates the name of the God of Israel (Hebrew: Yahweh Elohim). theos kyrios was also a name used as a designation of a god in the Hellenic world. It became a common Christian confession of faith. [JBC]

Nancy Rockwell, Exeter, New Hampshire. She has earned degrees in literature at Brown, theology at Harvard, has studied liturgy at Canterbury Cathedral.

For Thomas, alone, the convincing sense was touch. And he was the only one in all the gospels who touched Jesus ever, after Friday, after he had been laid in the tomb. The reality Thomas sought came through his fingers, more than through his eyes or ears. (Did he, though???)

Thomas, whose name means twin, stands alone in the gospel. Perhaps we are his twin, each of us standing in his shoes, asking to touch the wounds in which life became unsustainable, more inclined toward knowing the power that fascinates us, than the power that liberates us.

Elisabeth Johnson, Professor Lutheran Institute of Theology, Meiganga, Cameroon

Some years ago I read a comment (I don’t remember where or who had written it) that suggested that maybe, just maybe, the disciples were also afraid of Jesus. After all, they had failed him miserably. Peter had denied him three times, and the rest had deserted him (except for “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who had been at the cross and had taken Jesus’ mother into his home). Perhaps the last person the disciples wanted to meet on that evening was Jesus, risen from the dead to confront them with their failures.

Jesus, however, will not be stopped by locked doors. He who is himself the “door” of the sheep (10:7) comes right through those locked doors and appears in the midst of his frightened sheep. He comes not to confront his disciples with their failures, but to grant them peace. His greeting, “Peace be with you,” carries the sense of the Hebrew greeting “shalom,” a blessing that connotes more than tranquillity, but a deep and holistic sense of well-being -- the kind of peace the world cannot give (14:27)

What is more, he keeps showing up. As he came back a week later for Thomas, Jesus keeps coming back week after week among his gathered disciples -- in the word, the water, the bread, and the wine -- not wanting any to miss out on the life and peace he gives. And he keeps sending us out of our safe, locked rooms, into a world that, like us, so desperately needs his gifts of life and peace.

D. Mark Davis

Somewhere in the transmission of this text, someone decided that the word ὁτι (“that” or “because”) should be capitalized and set off with a comma. That is not part of the original text, but an interpretive judgment that was made along the way. Likewise, the question mark is someone’s judgment that this is a question followed by a statement. However, ὁτι is often used as a way of setting up a quote and can go un-translated. If that were the case here, Jesus’ words would read as two statements: “You have seen me and have believed. Blessed those who have not seen and believed.” The reason I want to offer this possibility is to say that Thomas’ path may be one way of embracing Jesus, but not an inferior way. By placing two statements side-by-side, perhaps the gospel is simply acknowledging that there are two authentic ways of embracing faith – one is through seeing and the other is through not seeing. In fact, the “blessing” that is conferred here may not be a way of naming one way as superior to the other, but because the burden of proof actually lay on the latter believers, the community to whom this gospel is written, who did not ever see or touch Jesus. This blessing may be a way of assuring them that their path of not seeing or touching is equally valid and not a way of denigrating Thomas’ need to see or touch.

John Petty, Progressive Involvement, 2011.

Jesus displays his wounds, now healed and glorified. This establishes continuity between the historical person Jesus, and the resurrected Jesus. Though he is different in some ways, such as the ability to appear at will, he is also in continuity with the Jesus the disciples had known historically. In fact, he is recognized not on the basis of his over-all appearance, but precisely on the basis of his wounds.

If Paul is correct that we will have a body like his glorified body (Ph 3: 21), then we will also be ourselves. We will be the same people whose personality was formed in this world--we will be us--but now all of us, including our psychology, will be healed and transformed just as Jesus' wounds were healed and transformed.

The reference to Jesus' hands also reminds readers that God "had given all things into his hands" (3: 35). The disciples are safe. The reference to his side refers to the spear of the Roman soldier after the death of Jesus, from which had flowed both blood and water. The water reminds us of the "living water" spoken of in the dialog with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter four. Moreover, "blood and water" are reminiscent of birth. The "blood and water" flowing from the side of Jesus gives birth to the New Community.

The Breath of Life: Jesus shifts immediately to mission--"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then, "he breathed on them." The disciples are given power from the divine breath. The Greek word translated as "breathed" is emphusao. It is the same word the Septuagint uses in Genesis 2: 7: "And the Lord God...breathed into (Adam's) nostrils the breath of life."

Moreover, the fourth gospel's use of emphusao is the only use of this word in the entire New Testament. Clearly, the author of the fourth gospel is equating the breath of Jesus with the breath of God. Where the Lord God breathed life into a human being, the Lord Jesus breathes life into his church. This underlines the fourth gospel's view that Jesus is the "new creation," and is yet another of the fourth gospel's many references to the book of Genesis.

"If you release the sins of any, they are released," says Jesus, and "if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This is not a parallel for a similar saying in Matthew. There is nothing here about eternal "binding and loosing." Rather, the New Community is to be characterized by the forgiveness, the "release," of sins. Conversely, if sins are not forgiven, they are "retained" within the community, thereby threatening the community's life.

Amy B. Hunter, The Christian Century, 2002.

Thomas is a practical, concrete sort of guy. Earlier in John’s Gospel, Thomas insists that the disciples accompany Jesus when he goes to Bethany, a place he’d had to leave under threat of being stoned. Thomas supports Jesus’ apparently suicidal plan with, "Let us also go that we may die with him." Even better, in the midst of Jesus’ long farewell discourse, Thomas speaks up, cutting through Jesus’ mystical, poetic and downright baffling language. Jesus assures his followers, "In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places . . . . where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going," to which Thomas replies, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Thomas is plain-spoken and gutsy. He wants to understand what’s going on, and be able to face the situation at hand.

1 John 1

Audrey West, Associate Professor of New Testament, Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago, IL

The message we have heard from God and we proclaim in our embodied communities is that Jesus does not save in an abstract way, but he saves us in our actual bodies.

Daniel B. Wallace, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary.

There are two opinions as to what light means in this text. Are we talking about moral light or about self-revelation? That is, when John says that God is light does he mean that God is a holy God or that he reveals himself? Is John addressing God's essence or his disclosure?

Both uses of light are found in scripture. Theophanies in the OT were accompanied by great light. Paul says that God dwells in unapproachable light. Texts such as these speak of God's holiness. But the Bible also uses light as an idiom for God's self-revelation. Jesus Christ is called "the effulgence of the glory of God" in Hebrews 1:3. In other words, he is the revelation of God incarnate. This is not to deny God's holiness, of course, but it is to principally address the disclosure of himself to mere mortals.