Without a Doubt
The Easter morning narratives that relate our Lord’s glorious resurrection in the Gospels are accented with several occasions of believable skepticism. Not for a moment did anyone anticipate a far-fetched, eighth-day miracle. The women went to the tomb on that first Easter morn to continue anointing a dear friend’s dead body. Discovering that the tomb was empty, Mary Magdalene ran and confidently informed Peter and the other disciples that someone had stolen the body. Returning to the tomb, she tearfully repeated her reasonable conclusion to a couple of angels sitting inside. Then taking the risen Christ to be the gardener and possible culprit, she pleaded with him to give the body back (John 20:1-2, 11-15). We should not think of Mary’s reactions and conclusions as unusual. All pre-scientific, first-century Jews were confident that dead people stay dead. When Jesus then appeared to His disciples in the upper room, they thought they were seeing a ghost. Luke records that even after He showed them the nail prints on His hands and feet, they still “disbelieved for joy” (Luke 24:40-41).
John’s recording of this appearance of Jesus to his disciples makes the point that Thomas was not with them and having received their testimony, he remained unconvinced. For many generations of English speaking Christians, Thomas has been known as a “doubter” of the resurrection. Upon inviting him to see and touch the nail and sword prints during His second appearance to the disciples in the upper room, Jesus exhorts Thomas in the KJV, “Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Hence, he has been popularly known as, “doubting Thomas.”
We should make the point, however, that Thomas was without a doubt a skeptic. And he was a skeptic without a doubt. Let me explain. Thomas just flat disbelieved that Jesus had risen from the grave. Due to a faulty translation in the KJV, “do not doubt, but believe” (John 20:27); many a sermon about “doubting Thomas” has influenced Christians to equate doubt with unbelief. A more accurate rendering of Jesus' words from the Greek would be: "do not disbelieve but believe" (ESV). Neither the word nor the idea of doubt is in the text.
Our word "doubt" comes from the Latin word, dubitare, which literally means to be "double-minded" about something. Indeed, our word “double” also comes from this same Latin root. We can think of belief and unbelief as single-minded perspectives, yes and no. Doubt is the equivalent to a simultaneous "yes/no." It can produce considerable tension, and the more important the issues involved, the greater the tension. Our doubts press us to resolve the tension into either belief or unbelief. Thomas moved from unbelief to faith through his encounter with the risen Christ. In both instances – before his inspection of the risen Christ and after - he was without a doubt.
Secondly, doubt is not something intrinsic to faith, as if biblical faith is simply an inferior, uncertain substitute for knowing something. Faith is not affirmation with uncertainty or doubt. It is not, as sometimes depicted, heroic conviction lacking evidence or good reason. Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen yet have believed” (John 20:29, ESV). Some Christians have understood His words to disparage Thomas for insisting on objective evidence to ground his faith while extolling those who would believe without any evidence at all. This is a faulty understanding that ignores the New Testament stress on the importance of eyewitness testimony. Thomas should be understood as a skeptic, without a doubt. He had the benefit of overwhelming evidence that Christ had risen from the dead based on corroborated eyewitness testimony from his closest friends (John 20:25). Despite this solid evidence, he would not believe. Our Lord’s words to him should be interpreted to mean; “blessed are those who rest their faith commitment in the sufficiency of eyewitness testimony.”*
Even when matters of fact are justified by sufficient evidence, there is always room for skepticism. A skeptic disbelieves not based on the weight of evidence but in spite of it. Jesus told His disciples (soon to be apostles) at His first meeting in the upper room that His appearance qualified them to be His witnesses (Luke 24:46-48). His appearance to Thomas was for the same reason. Apostolic first-hand witness enables our faith in the risen Christ to rest on sufficient evidence. The apostles understood the importance of the eye-witness character of their proclamation of Christ. On Pentecost, Peter declared: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Concerning the Lord’s transfiguration, He clarified: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths and fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). The New Testament writers provide a strong objective foundation for us to anchor our knowledge and trust in the risen Lord.
So, during this Easter Season, as we continue to respond to the acclamation, “Christ is Risen, Alleluia!” We can also say; “He is risen indeed, without a doubt!”
*For further explanation and discussion of this text and the importance of apostolic eyewitness testimony for grounding the facticity of the resurrection of Christ, see my You Can Give an Answer: A Study in Christian Apologetics (1517 Publishing), 12ff.