Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Outing, Touting, Routing, Pouting, Doubting Thomas

Below is a rough translation and some initial comments regarding John 20:19-29, the lectionary gospel reading for the second Sunday of Easter. There are two pericopes here: The first appearance, with its repetitious proclamations of peace; and the second appearance with the intriguing struggle of Thomas and doubt. I like to see the Thomas story as an instance of the early church community, empowered by the spirit to ‘release and retain’ brokenness. I hope that makes sense from the comments below. 

I've opted for a weird title name this week because I don't think we always know what to do with or how to think about Thomas. The Gospel of John invests a lot in the word "believe," and Thomas seems to be a case study in someone moving from doubt to belief. But, as I will argue in my postscript, I think we confine belief too much to what happens between our ears. And I think that disables us from seeing the fulness of this story. But ... on with the text! 

19 Οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων, καὶ τῶν θυρῶν 
κεκλεισμένων ὅπου ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων,ἦλθεν ὁ 
Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν. 
Then - being evening on that first day of Sabbaths, and the doors having been shut, where the disciples were for fear of the Judeans - Jesus came and stood in the midst and says to them, “Peace to you.”
Οὔσης: PAPart gfs, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
κεκλεισμένων: PerfPPart gfp, κλείω, 1) to shut, shut up
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
ἔστη: AAI 3s, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
1. Re: “first day of Sabbaths,” I’ll repeat this comment on last week’s text, as this phrase is repeated from v.1 and shows up in every gospel account of the resurrection (Mk. 16:2, Mt.28:1, Lk.24:1):
If you google this phrase, prepare yourself for all manner of conspiracy-theorist venom. The phrase is typically translated as “the first day of the week,” which – according to the venom – is an anti-Semitic means of hiding the Jewish roots of Christianity. A kindlier interpretation – which recognizes that lexicons and commentaries are all written from and shaped by some manner of perspective, and that some of those perspectives were indeed tainted with anti-Semitism – could be something like this: We may be looking at a colloquial expression that we can only make sense of by seeing its use in NT and contemporary sources, then guessing what the pattern is. So, e.g., when the Pharisee in 18:12 says, “I fast twice a Sabbath,” it would seem that “Sabbath” can mean “week,” as opposed to this man boasting that he fasts twice in one day. If “Sabbath” can mean “week,” then interpreting our verse to say “on the first day of the week,” is not an attempt to erase the Sabbaths from the story, but to figure out the meaning of the colloquial expression and express it meaningfully today.  
2. The verb is supplied in the common translation of Jesus’ words as “Peace be with you.”

20 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἔδειξεν τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῖς. ἐχάρησαν οὖν 
οἱ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες τὸν κύριον. 
And having said this he showed the hands and side to them.  Then, the disciples were overjoyed having seen the Lord.
εἰπὼν:  AAPart nms, λέγω, to say, to speak 
ἔδειξεν: AAI 3s, δεικνύω, to show, exhibit
ἐχάρησαν: API 3p, χαίρω, 1) to rejoice, be glad  2) to rejoice exceedingly  3) to be well, thrive  4) in salutations, hail!  5) at the beginning of letters: to give one greeting, salute
ἰδόντες: AAPart nmp, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
1. Jesus shows the disciples his scars and it moves them from φόβον (v.19, fear) to χαίρω (rejoice). This is a key moment, not only with respect to what follows with Thomas, but with respect to the key role that ‘seeing’ plays in John’s story. One example is the story that immediately precedes this story, when the Beloved Disciple went into the tomb and saw and believed (καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν, v.8).
2. I'm seeing the relationship between "showing" and "seeing," which happens in the conversation of Jn. 14:9, in a conversation between Philip and Jesus. The verb shows up several times also in chapters 2-12, with the emphasis on "signs." 
3. I consider it one of the gifts of the Christian tradition that every gospel account of the resurrection includes Jesus’ scars. Perhaps one role of the scars is to rebut docetic arguments that Jesus did not really suffer and die on the cross, but only appeared to do so. For me, it is less a matter of “proof” and more a matter of telling the story with authenticity and hope – Friday really did happen, but there is more.

21 εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς [ὁ Ἰησοῦς] πάλιν, Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν: καθὼς ἀπέσταλκέν με  
πατήρ, κἀγὼ πέμπω ὑμᾶς.  
Then [Jesus] said to them again, “Peace to you; just as the father has sent me, I also send you.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, to say, to speak 
ἀπέσταλκέν: PerfAI, 3sg ἀποστέλλω to order (one) to go to a place appointed  
πέμπω: PAI, 1sg ἀποστέλλω to order (one) to go to a place appointed
1. There are numerous references throughout John’s gospel to Jesus having been “sent” by God. Most notably it is repeated in Jesus’ prayer in c.17.
2. This verse has become a key verse for those who speak of the church as a “missional” body. While autocorrect will have to be tamed to accept the word “missional,” the idea of the church as a sent and sending body, participating in the missio dei (mission of God), is profound. It takes the emphasis of ‘sending’ away from a mission committee or other specialized group and makes it part of the church’s DNA.   

22 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον: 
And having said this, he breathed and says to them, “Receive a holy spirit.”
εἰπὼν: AAPart, nms λέγω, to say, to speak 
ἐνεφύσησεν: AAI 3sg, ἐμφυσάω, to blow or breathe upon
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, to say, to speak 
Λάβετε: AAImpv 2p, λαμβάνω, 1) to take  
1. The lexicons greekbible.com and the Zondervan Analytical Greek Lexicon say that ἐνεφύσησεν (breathed) is rooted in the verb ἐμφυσάω, which, thebible.org says, “[has] in view the primary meaning of the words רוּחַ and πνεῦμα.” I’ll have to take that as true, but the aorist singular form here, ἐνεφύσησεν, looks like the root could be νεφύσ, which sounds like a transliteration of the Hebrew nephesh, the word for soul/mind. Would one of you Hebrew scholars help me make this connection or disabuse me of it?
2. If this word is etymologically related to πνεῦμα, then it would be consistent to make Jesus’ words, “Receive a holy breath.” “Breath” is always a possible choice for πνεῦμα.
3. Regarding the spirit, see John 7:38-39: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' Now he said this about the spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” In our pericope, Jesus has been “glorified” and breathes the spirit to them. To get a fuller sense of what John means by “glorify,” see the stories of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in c.13 and Jesus’ prayer in c.17, both of which have repeated references to it. In the next chapter, Jesus speaks of how Simon Peter will “glorify” God through his death.
4. Here is an interesting pattern:
19: “Peace to you”
20: “Having said this, …”
21: “Peace to you”
22: “Having said this, …”

23 ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς, ἄν τινων κρατῆτε 
If you would release the sins of any, they are released to them; if you would retain, they are retained.   
ἀφῆτε: AASubj 2p, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart  1a1) of a husband divorcing his wife  1b) to send forth, yield up, to expire  1c) to let go, let alone, let be  1c1) to disregard  1c2) to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic)  1c21) of teachers, writers and speakers  1c3) to omit, neglect  1d) to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit
ἀφέωνται: PerfPI 3p, ἀφίημι (see above)
κρατῆτε: PASubj 2p, κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule  2) to get possession of  2a) to become master of, to obtain  2b) to take hold of  2c) to take hold of, take, seize
κεκράτηνται: PerfPI 3p κρατέω (see above)
1. The word ἀφίημι is often translated “forgive,” especially when it is used in relation to “sin” (ἁμαρτία). But, as one can see above, the potential definitions are quite varied and ‘forgive’ is not among the first choices. It may be that in the later Christian church we have a more moralistic understanding of ‘sin’ than in the first century. What if ἁμαρτία means “brokenness,” rather than some kind of moral failing, often associated with ‘sin’? What would be the meaning of Jesus’ gathered followers having the spirit and power to “release” or “retain” brokenness?
2. This seems to be the whole point of receiving the holy breath/spirit from Jesus – to release or to retain ἁμαρτία. Is this John’s version of the church’s commission? It is certainly not in the imperative voice, implying that the church is sent to go and release sins or to retain sins. It is in the subjunctive mood – “if you do this, this happens; if you do that, that happens.” It may be less of a commissioning and more of a statement, even a warning – “This holy breath empowers you to do this, or to do that.”

24 Θωμᾶς δὲ εἷς ἐκ τῶν δώδεκα,  λεγόμενος Δίδυμος, οὐκ ἦν μετ' αὐτῶν ὅτε 
ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς. 
But Thomas, one out of the twelve, who is called the twin, was not being with them when Jesus came. 
λεγόμενος: PPPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain  1b) to teach  1c) to exhort, advise, to command, direct  1d) to point out with words, intend, mean, mean to say  1e) to call by name, to call, name 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 
1. This verse begins, in my view, the second story in our pericope. However, I think it is directly related to v.23. This is where the disciples, having seen and believed, engage in the work of reconciliation, by releasing sin and making community. 
2. One commentator suggests that, if we did not know Matthew and Luke, it would appear that Thomas is Jesus’ twin. I’m feeling a sequel to The Da Vinci Code coming.
3. Regarding my translation of Thomas “not being with them” see my comments below.

25 ἔλεγον οὖν αὐτῷ οἱ ἄλλοι μαθηταί, Ἑωράκαμεν τὸν κύριον.  δὲ εἶπεν 
αὐτοῖς, Ἐὰν μὴ ἴδω ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτοῦ τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω τὸν δάκτυλόν μου εἰς τὸν τύπον τῶν ἥλων καὶ βάλω μου τὴν χεῖρα εἰς τὴν 
πλευρὰν αὐτοῦ, οὐ μὴ πιστεύσω. 
Then the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord.”  But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and insert my finger into the mark of the nails and insert my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἑωράκαμεν: PerfAI 1p ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἴδω: AASubj 1s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
βάλω: AASubj 1s, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls  ...  2) to put into, insert
πιστεύσω: AASubj 1s, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believe
1. Just to be clear, Mary had already told the disciples “I have seen the Lord” but they are overjoyed when they see the hands and side. In this story, the disciples say “We have seen the Lord,” but Thomas cannot accept it until he, too, sees the hands and side. To me, the point of this story is not that Thomas is the disbelieving holdout because he needs to see evidence before he believes. I think there is more to Thomas’ “doubt” than a lack of evidence.
2. I’m curious about the use of the imperfect form of ‘to be’ (with a negative particle οὐκ ἦν, “was not being”) in v.24 and the imperfect form of ‘to say’ (ἔλεγον, “was saying”) in v.25. It would have been easy to use the aorist tense to say that Thomas was not with them, right at the moment that Jesus first arrived. But, by using the imperfect tense, John may be saying that Thomas was no longer with them when Jesus came the first time, as if he had given up on following Christ, with them, after the crucifixion. Likewise, if they had only said to Thomas, “While you were out getting bagels one day, Jesus came,” the aorist tense would suffice. But, the imperfect, “were saying” implies ongoing past action. Perhaps they were trying over and over to convince Thomas to return. Finally, Thomas threw down the gauntlet, “I’ll come back, but unless I see and touch, etc., I won’t believe it.” I guess I’m seeing the possibility that this was an extended conversation about Thomas’ participation in the community, and not just that Thomas happened to miss out on the first visit. 
2. Thomas makes seeing and touching prerequisites for believing. This pair of verbs returns in v. 29.
3. The term βάλλω is a bit more than ‘to place’ something. It is the word that is used to throw, toss, and to cast, as in casting out demons.

26 Καὶ μεθ' ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ πάλιν ἦσαν ἔσω οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ καὶ Θωμᾶς μετ' 
αὐτῶν. ἔρχεται  Ἰησοῦς τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων, καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον 
καὶ εἶπεν, Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν. 
And on the eighth day again his disciples were inside and Thomas with them.  Jesus enters the locked doors and stood in the midst and said, “Peace to you.” 
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
κεκλεισμένων: PerfPassPart, gfpl, to lock, close up, shut
ἔστη: AAI 3s, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set  1a) to bid to stand by, [set up]  1a1) in the presence of others,
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. I am translating ἔρχομαι as ‘enters’ instead of ‘comes’ because it is in the middle voice.
2. “and Thomas with them.” Thomas has been reconciled to the community. Perhaps the business of receiving the spirit for releasing and retaining is all about reconciling others to the community.  

27 εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ, Φέρε τὸν δάκτυλόν σου ὧδε καὶ ἴδε τὰς χεῖράς μου, 
καὶ φέρε τὴν χεῖρά σου καὶ βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευράν μου, καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος 
ἀλλὰ πιστός. 
Then he says to Thomas, “Place your finger here and see my hand, and place your hand here and insert [it] onto my side, and do not become unbelieving but believing.” [or “do not be/become an unbeliever but a believer.”] 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Φέρε: PAImp 2s, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden   1a1) to bear with one's self   1b) to move by bearing; move or, to be conveyed or borne, with   the suggestion of force or speed
βάλε: AAImpv, 2s, βάλλω, 1) to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls ...  2) to put into, insert
γίνου: PMImp 2s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
1. I strongly disagree with the NIV’s translation of Jesus last phrase as a separate sentence that reads, “Stop doubting and believe.” The words ἄπιστος  and πιστός are not verbs; they are adjectives, modifying the verb γίνομαι. (Or, they could be predicates. They are in the nominative case because because the verb γίνομαι can take a nominative predicate.) The verb γίνομαι is in the middle/passive voice, which is not uncommon in John’s gospel. Its primary meaning is ‘to become’ but it can simply mean ‘to be’ or it can take on many shades of meaning. This is the verb that the KJV often translates “it came to pass,” because it points to a state of being, rather than a particular action performed by a particular person. I don’t think γίνομαι really fits into our typical patterns of ‘active’ v. ‘passive’ v. ‘middle’ verbs, where the actor and action are clearly identified. In this case, however, γίνομαι is in the imperative mood, which we customarily see as a very direct demand of the actor/action. How do we reconcile the imperative mood with the nature of the verb γίνομαι and the middle/passive voice? I’m not entirely sure, but I do feel the NIV’s translation skips over the thickness of the words and grammar in order to present this as a dual command.

28 ἀπεκρίθη Θωμᾶς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ,Ὁ κύριός μου καὶ  θεός μου. 
Thomas answered and said to him, “My lord and my God.” 
ἀπεκρίθη: API 3s, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. The term “lord” seems to be a term that is often used to show respect, like “Señor” in Spanish. But, to declare Jesus “my Lord” might be Thomas’ way of declaring Jesus to be his ultimate ruler, as opposed to Caesar, for whom this term was often used. Moreover, to call Jesus “my God” would be blasphemous for a Jew. This is no small declaration. No wonder Thomas needed to work this through. If Thomas had left the community, this declaration could be his becoming (again) a disciple.

29 λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οτι ἑώρακάς με πεπίστευκας; μακάριοι οἱ μὴ ἰδόντες καὶ πιστεύσαντες.
Jesus says to him, “You have seen me you have believed.  Blessed those who have not seen and who have believed.” 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἑώρακάς: PerfAI, 2sg ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
πεπίστευκας: PerfAI, 2sg πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
ἰδόντες: AAPart npm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
πιστεύσαντες: AAPart npm, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in 1a) of the thing believed
1. Somewhere in the transmission of the Greek 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 could 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, while the path facing John’s readers may be another 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 on those who will never see and touch Jesus’ body may be a way of assuring them that their path of not seeing or touching is as valid as Thomas’ path of seeing and touching. (One could argue that the “blessed” suggests the path of not seeing or touching is more valid. If, however, the question asked by John’s readership is whether belief is possible at all without seeing or touching, then the “blessed” may not be privileging their path but assuring them that their path is equally valid.)
2. There is no main verb in the latter part of this verse. Perhaps the verb ‘to be’ (“are”) is implied, because the οἱ follows the μακάριοι, making μακάριοι the subject and οἱ the predicate nominative. I guess. In any case, the οἱ is the definite article for “who have not seen and who believe.”  
3. This sentence is set up as a chiasm. But, a true chiasm would posit seeing and believing against not seeing and not believing. This one has seeing and believing, then not seeing and yet believing. I believe this is a dramatic ending to John, summarizing all that Jesus has said before about “seeing and believing,” both positive and negative.
4. On this point, see the article, “The Faith of the Beloved Disciple and the Community of John 20”, by Brendan Byrne (Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Feb., 1985, p.89). One comment in particular sums up Byrne’s point, I think: “'Sign' faith is, of course, variously evaluated in John's Gospel. But where such faith is negatively rated (e.g., 2.23-24; 3.2-3; 4.45-48; 6.14-15; 7.3-7) the problem is not so much that a sign initiates the process of faith as that the preoccupation with the sign proceeds from purely human categories and needs in a way that obscures rather than serves the divine revelation in Jesus.” 

30 Πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλα σημεῖα ἐποίησεν  Ἰησοῦς ἐνώπιον τῶν μαθητῶν [αὐτοῦ],  οὐκ ἔστιν γεγραμμένα ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τούτῳ: 

Indeed Jesus made many other signs in the presence of the disciples [of his], which are not having been written in this book;

ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc

ἔστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present

γεγραμμένα: PerfPPart npm, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters  1a) to delineate (or form) letters on a tablet, parchment,  paper, or other material

1. I wonder if this is an acknowledgement of other gospel texts. I’ve often felt that whoever wrote this gospel knew the Gospel of Mark to some extent.

2. If nothing else, this verse shows that “signs” themselves are not an indication of weak faith. I worry that too many sermons coming out of this pericope imply that wanting or needing some sort of ‘sign’ to retain one’s faith is contrary to the gospel. John has a very layered and sophisticated approach to the relationship between signs and faith.


31ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται ἵνα πιστεύ[ς]ητε ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν  Χριστὸς  υἱὸς 
τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες ζωὴν ἔχητε ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ. 

yet these things have been written in order that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of God, and in order that while believing you may have life in his name. 

γέγραπται: PeftPI 3p, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters  1a) to delineate (or form) letters on a tablet, parchment,  paper, or other material

πιστεύ[ς]ητε: AASubj 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed

πιστεύοντες: PAPart nmp, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed

ἔχητε: PASubj 2p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have  (hold) possession of the mind (refers to alarm, agitating  emotions, etc.), to hold fast keep, to have or comprise or  involve, to regard or consider or hold as 

1. The point of vv.30-31 seems to be building on the comment of v.29. The disciples saw signs and believed, but the readers do not have the signs of Jesus’ hands and side. Still, they can believe because they have these writings. Through them, John’s community can believe as authentically as the disciples and can have life just like the disciples.

2. I think this is the original ending of John’s gospel, with c.21 as a later addition. 

Unscientific Concluding Postscript (with apologies to Soren)
We often think of "believing" as a matter of the head. There are "beliefs" to which we either ascribe or not. The idea is that we give thoughtful assent to them. Sometimes, we think of "believing" as a matter of the heart. The shading of the word "believing" as "trusting" would be an example - it is more than mental assent, but a reliance of some sort. 

To me, the Thomas story offers another option: "Believing" is mostly a matter of our feet. 

On the eve of Easter, Thomas was no longer being with the disciples. Who can blame him? The dream died and while there may be a lot to process, for all intents and purposes the fellowship of the believers is no longer necessary. So, Thomas walks. That's why I think the imperfect sense of Thomas "no longer being with them" is important. Perhaps misery loves company, but some of us prefer to deal with our misery alone. Perhaps "being with them" was a way of trying to keep the team going, even after the disaster of the cross. I'm suggesting that Thomas' absence was a matter of walking away from the community, in light of Jesus' death.

After Jesus' appearance, the disciples seek out Thomas and tell him that they have seen Jesus. This is the critical connection between the two pericopes here. Thomas has left the building; now they - empowered by the breath/spirit of God - go out to bring him back. Of course he is skeptical. They keep telling him with the kind of conviction a first-hand witness can offer, but he insists that he cannot rely on their testimony alone. He would need to see and touch for himself before he can accept it. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." 

But, Thomas joins them again. His head and his heart remain unconvinced, but with his feet he joins them. They are walking the path again. To me, this may well be why Jesus washed their feet - because where we walk makes all the difference. There will be times when our head simply cannot wrap itself around the idea that God is making all things new. There will be times when our hearts are not courageous, but discouraged. Even so, we can "believe" with our feet, by walking with the community, letting those who have the capacity to sing the faith sing while we are silent, letting those who can praise praise, while we can only lament. I tell my own children often, "Doubt all you want. That is often the path to believing. But, the best place to doubt is right here among the church."  


  1. I appreciate the commentary regarding v.24-5 and, at the least, the very real possibility that Thomas "no longer" was with them...that he may well have quit on the idea that Jesus was the real deal.
    It sure seems to me, in a world where crosses always had the last word, that it would have been natural and in some ways, seemingly pretty stupid to continue believing in Jesus as Messiah when you see crosses on the horizon. Thanks for reaffirming that in your notes.
    Dave Shaw- a UCC pastor in CO

  2. Thanks for the note, David. I agree entirely. Sometimes it still seems that crosses and other expressions of "final violence" seem to have the last word.
    Thanks again,

  3. Re: v. 22 and ἐμφυσάω - I like your reach for nephesh. Unfortunately, one of the things I love about Greek are the English cognates. When I was a kid, my grandfather was diagnosed with emphysema, a disease of the lungs and how much air can be successfully used.

  4. Helpful comments, as always... wonder if you got more clarification about nephesh from the Hebrew scholars? Also wonder where pneuma fits in? On to more research.

  5. v. 21, note 3: "This verse has become a key verse for those who speak of the church as a “missional” body." This morphs and becomes even more profound if as an alternate or synonym to "the church" we go with ekklesia, "the called-out people." "The people of God are missional" broadens this far beyond what we usually think of "the church" doing. I'll dismount my soapbox now. :-)

    1. Yes! I think this comment entitles you to take up an offering.
      Nice to hear from you, Dwight. You'll be happy to know that I started a 4pm Thursday gathering, following your example. We call it the "Synagaggle."

  6. I love the idea of believing being a matter of our feet, but I find it takes me a slightly different direction. I've often wondered about the week that passed between the first appearance and the second and the fact that Thomas has evidently not been convinced in the meantime. Additionally, the disciples are acting the exact same way (shut up in a locked room) as they did before they saw Jesus. Perhaps they aren't believing with their feet, and if they had been Thomas might have been convinced about the resurrection by their witness and action.

    1. Hi Katy, thanks for chiming in. I'm not quite ready to go with you on the disciples' being locked up as a sign of not following with their feet. In John's gospel, they have every reason to be locked up for fear of the Jewish leadership. The leaders at one point were plotting Lazarus' death along with Jesus' death - and Lazarus may well be among the disciples.
      More to the point, perhaps, is that John's community seemed to be facing some outright persecution, so being locked up in hiding and being faithful may not be incompatible for them either.
      I just think the danger was real, so being in hiding from those in power may be another form of discipleship. Tragic, though it is.

    2. I may have made too much of the locked up part by itself, as I admit I do get pretty defensive of Thomas. :) However, I do still wonder what, if any, evidence that Thomas may have seen from them that Jesus was resurrected besides their words. Even with a legitimate reason to be fearful of the Jewish leadership, Jesus did "send" them "just as the father has sent me." I wonder what other actions they may have taken in that week that could have witnessed to the resurrection in a way that convinced Thomas. Alas, the gospel does not tell us what else they were doing.

    3. I was just looking back on this as I was preparing a Celebration of Life service for someone who reminds me of the things I love about Thomas, and I think I figured out why I have the reaction that I do - Thomas was the one who, when the other disciples were trying to keep Jesus from going to Judea after Lazarus' death, said "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Thomas shows that faith that demands action in the face of fear, so to him, I can easily imagine that being locked up (even though the disciples have very legitimate reasons to do so) would be a sign of not believing what they say they believe. Just another perspective. :)

  7. Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν - Strong says it's dative: The dative case shows the relationship of an indirect object to a verb, often found inside a prepositional phrase.
    E.g. His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.

    Could that also be translated as 'Peace is yours'?

  8. Excellent, well-argued, provocative and thoughtful as ever. Your comments on Thomas are particularly insightful and your little postscript is beautiful. Thanks you so much, once again, for inspiring me!

  9. I wish I could give you a correlation to νεφύσ as a transliteraton of nephesh-
    but it is not used in LXX as that.

    I would agree that the sound- thus the concept- is quite plausible.

    Thanks! David

  10. In your 2012 iteration of this you introduced the commentary with "Can we believe like those who were there to see it with their own eyes?"
    I came across another commentary on last week's lection that has relates to that question and this weeks : http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john20x1.htm
    Is v1- 31 about 'seeing is not believing ' or seeing is often misleading:? Four times Mary and the two disciples see/believe /but "have not known" Only the Word curtails this. The Thomas episode is the climax of that. He realises that seeing Jesus is beside the point when Jesus addresses him and his response is like Mary's - worship.

  11. Always enlightening, Mark. Two observations: 1) The release and retain phrase has a power of peace when it’s read: if you all release one from unbelieving (sin in John is about believing or not), you all retain the community. 2) Why privilege the deniers over Thomas? They seek Thomas to tell him they have been released by Jesus and to come see for himself. So many have left churches because they couldn’t tolerate the deniers in their congregation.
    Russell Meyer


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