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John 20:24-29
24Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I either always lazily read or remember being taught that Thomas actually touched Jesus's side (or maybe The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio influenced me). But under close reading it appears that Thomas didn't touch Jesus, he merely saw Jesus because the scripture doesn't explicitly say he touched Jesus and Jesus said "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (emphasis added mine).

Is this a good interpretation and/or is there any other scripture that would support or not support this?

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Also would this question be better suited to the Biblical Hermeneutics site? –  Steve Moser Apr 22 '12 at 19:10
Yes. Yes I did. –  Thomas Shields Apr 22 '12 at 21:10
@DoubtingThomas ROFL. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Apr 23 '12 at 4:40

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Safe answer: John 20 is the only passage of scripture that discusses this event, so the short answer is - we can't say for sure. In general, we need to be cautious about "reasoning from an absence of scripture."

My guess: Thomas made a statement to the effect of "I refuse to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and the only thing that could change my mind would be if He Himself appeared and proved it to me". He is pretty "over the top" with his demand, because not only did he say Jesus had to appear, but that Thomas would have to actually stick his fingers in each of Jesus' wounds! I think he was trying to make it very clear where he stood on the matter!

Jesus responded by appearing to him and offering to grant his request. Thomas appears to have been shocked and humbled by this, and seems very repentant, judging by his statement, "My Lord and my God!" I have a very hard time believing that Thomas proceeded to probe each of His wounds with his fingers, but that's just a guess.

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I've heard at least one sermon about how "Doubting Thomas" got an unfair reputation. Although he made the statement of doubt, he actually required no more proof than any of the other disciples. This theory agrees with your guess above. –  Flimzy Apr 23 '12 at 3:38

In our tradition, the hymnography states unequivocally that Thomas does touch his side. The words:

"The apostle touched thy flesh and was not burned..."

So this essentially affirms two theological points about the resurrected Christ:

  1. He was physical, as in, solid
  2. His resurrected body was not physical in a normal way, and would have harmed an ordinary person because of its power.

It also affirms that Thomas did touch Christ, according to Orthodox teaching.

Also, This explains part of why Christ advises Mary Magdalene to not touch him; touching him directly was not safe for a person to ordinarily do.

But Thomas we are made to understand was granted an exception so that his faith could be bolstered. Similar to how the Apostles were granted to see the Divine Light in the Transfiguration, if only for a short period.

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Interesting. (+1) Do you happen to know how far back we have historical records of this doctrine? For instance, do you know if the early Catholic church held this doctrine (or if they still do)? –  Jas 3.1 Apr 23 '12 at 16:39
This I do not know. You would have to find the writer of the Hymns for Thomas Sunday (Antipascha) - these are the Stichera for Vespers of the evening before. I do not know how old they are, only that as a rule of thumb stuff doesn't get in the hymnography of the stichera that isn't kosher. –  RiverC Apr 23 '12 at 19:39
+1 Very interesting. I'd say there are not many compelling answers that depend solely on hymnography. What tradition is this? –  dleyva3 Apr 26 '12 at 22:21
@dleyva3: I believe this is from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. –  Jon Ericson Jun 1 '12 at 23:24

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