Columnists > The story of Thomas has to be one of the most misunderstood in the New Testament

07 April 2016 | by Richard Leonard

The story of Thomas has to be one of the most misunderstood in the New Testament


In the Easter season Thomas makes two notable appearances, one much more significant than the other. The gospel story about doubting Thomas has to be one of the most misunderstood episodes in the New Testament.

If you are like me, for years you may have been consoled by Thomas doubting that Jesus had been raised from the dead. We have been told that Thomas doubted Jesus. But if we read the story very carefully, we realise it is not Jesus that Thomas doubts, it is the disciples. In fact, when Jesus appears to them a week later, Thomas has the opportunity to share in the experience of the Risen Lord, and like the others he immediately confesses Easter faith. Indeed Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God”, which is one of the greatest claims made in the Gospels. History has been unfair. He should be remembered as “confessing Thomas”, not “doubting Thomas”. There are, however, three elements to the story from which we should take great comfort.


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Comment by: Bernard
Posted: 12/04/2016 11:59:30
Interested in faith/reason dialogue, the term ‘spiritual body’, as applied to the resurrected Christ, always intrigued me. The problem with the term ‘spiritual body’ is apparent in Lk 24. The resurrected Christ appeared to the apostles, who thought they were seeing a ghost (a pure sprit). Jesus invited them to touch Him, saying: ‘a ghost has no flesh and bones, as you see I have.’ He ate grilled fish in their presence. He reassured them that his risen body, in space-time, was a material physical body, just like ours. We could say he has a spiritual body in heaven, transcending space-time, but this spiritual body was present to the apostles as a finite living human body in space-time. The Risen Body of Jesus is a material body, which is simultaneously present in heaven and on earth in those appearances, but the material in heaven transcends space-time, and is not therefore evident to our senses, or to any scientific test, in contrast to the material of His body and ours on earth. This is why the heavenly body is called a ‘spiritual body’.However, His real presence in the Eucharist is not just a spiritual presence. Here I believe that His body has literally the appearances (chemical and physical properties) of bread and wine. His Risen Body is simultaneously present as physical substance in order that we can see, touch, taste and eat Him. The change in Transubstantiation is also invisible. The accidents of bread and wine remain .So does Jesus, while the accidents remain.

Comment by: Rob
Posted: 08/04/2016 23:49:32
2/2 The sightings of the risen Christ are spiritual metaphors, in which the hopeful philosophy is put that the spirit never dies, but goes on living after death. We can cope with this today, can't we? But I gather this was not enough to found a religion in the past.”
This makes sense to me and Tacey’s book is ‘just right’ at this time of my life. As a visual artist, I search for ‘true self’ in my art and where God fits. I look forward to what will result from pondering what one reviewer says of Tacey’s book. “… potential to be profoundly consequential!”

Thank you again!
Comment by: Rob
Posted: 08/04/2016 23:48:52
Thank you, Richard, for this article. I agree a ‘confessing Thomas’ rings truer than a ‘doubting Thomas’. As an adult with faith, I, too, have a few questions, which I know is okay to have!
In his David Tacey’s book, ‘Beyond literal belief: Religion as metaphor’ (2015, Garrett. ISBN: 9781925009798), he begins Chapter 9, ‘Resurrection: Ascending to where?’ with a quote from St Paul (1 Cor 15:35), ‘Someone may ask, “How are dead people raised, and what sort of body do they have when they come back?” They are stupid questions.’ Tacey writes, “I am prepared to believe in a spiritual resurrection, for which one would require no support apart from intuition of faith. But a physical resurrection, as proclaimed by doctrine or creed, is not only unlikely but preposterous. The question is: why did the church go down this path? There are “sightings” of the resurrected Jesus in the gospels, but these can be read as teaching or allegorical stories. Scripture scholars tell us that the Johannine scene in which the “Doubting Thomas” is confronted by the risen Christ, and invited to inspect Jesus’ crucifixion wounds with his hands, has no basis in fact, is not corroborated by other gospel accounts, and is a fabrication of the early Church (John 20:24-28). 1 /2

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