Jesus on Faith – Part 5

Stig Martinsen made a plausible objection to my argument for the idea that Jesus viewed giving EVIDENCE and ARGUMENTS as compatible with promoting FAITH:


I have seen the story of doubting Thomas in John 20 interpreted as an example of Jesus endorsing faith as opposed to belief grounded in evidence. I.e. 20:29:

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.


I have three counter points to make in response to the reference to John 20:29:

  • The Role of Signs in the Gospel of John in General
  • The Role of Evidence in the Faith of the Disciples in John 20
  • An Alternative Interpretation of John 20:29

In Part 4 of this series, I covered the first point about the role of signs in the Gospel of John.  Basically, the stated purpose of this gospel is to promote faith in Jesus on the basis of the evidence of miracle reports, and this stated purpose is clearly carried out in terms of seven “signs” or miracles of Jesus described in Chapters 2 through 11, and in the fact that these miracles are performed with the expectation of evoking faith (in Jesus) in the people who witness the miracles, and in the fact that the miracles are repeatedly asserted to have produced such faith, at least in some of the people who witnessed them.  Thus, a central theme of the Gospel of John is the production of faith by means of EVIDENCE.  This is an important part of the context of John 20:29, which needs to be taken into account when interpreting that verse.

It is now time to consider my second point.  Since the verse in question is part of Chapter 20, it is especially important to understand this verse in relation to what is going on in that Chapter.  We can summarize this chapter this way:

Jesus presents EVIDENCE of his resurrection from the dead to Mary Magdalene, to his disciples (minus Thomas), and then to his disciples again, and to Thomas.  

If Jesus understood faith to imply belief that is based on NO EVIDENCE or to imply belief that is CONTRARY to the EVIDENCE, then Jesus would have been making it difficult or impossible for Mary, his disciples, and Thomas to have faith by giving them clear evidence of his resurrection from the dead.  Jesus has no such conception of faith.  Rather, Jesus is presented as providing EVIDENCE of his resurrection for the very purpose of bringing his disciples to have faith in him, to get them to firmly believe that Jesus was the divine Son of God.

Furthermore, the resurrection fits in with the general theme of SIGNS (miracles) being the basis for BELIEF (faith).  The resurrection of Jesus is the Grand Finale of the series of miracles reported in the Gospel of John.  Jesus himself implies that his resurrection was a “sign”:

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.”

17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then said to Him, “What SIGN do You show us as your authority for doing these things?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will RAISE it up.”

20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?”

21 But He was speaking of the temple of HIS BODY.

22 So when He was RAISED FROM THE DEAD, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they BELIEVED the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22 New American Standard Bible (NASB, EMPHASIS added)

As with the previous seven “signs”, Jesus offers EVIDENCE of his resurrection in hopes of persuading witnesses to BELIEVE in him, to have FAITH in him, to be convinced that Jesus is the divine Son of God:

  • Jesus leaves his tomb open and leaves his burial wrappings in the tomb where Peter and the beloved disciple find the burial wrappings (20:1-10)
  • Jesus appears to and speaks to Mary Magdalene thus showing her that he has risen from the dead (20:11-18)
  • Mary tells the gathered disciples “I have seen the Lord” (20:11-18)
  • Jesus appears to and speaks to his gathered disciples (minus Thomas) and SHOWS them his hands and his side (20:19-21)
  • The disciples who were present when Jesus dropped by on Easter tell Thomas “We have seen the Lord” (20:24-25)
  • Thomas is not convinced by their testimony and demands first-hand EVIDENCE that Jesus is risen (20:24-25)
  • Jesus appears again to the gathered disciples with Thomas present, and immediately offers Thomas the EVIDENCE that he had required:

26 After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus *came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

27 Then He *said to Thomas, “REACH HERE with your finger, and SEE My hands; and REACH HERE your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but BELIEVING.”

28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

John 20:26-28 New American Standard Bible (NASB, EMPHASIS added)

So, just as with the other seven “signs” (miracles), Jesus is providing EVIDENCE with the purpose of getting some people to “believe in him” (to have faith), to believe that he is the Son of God.  Chapter 20 is all about the greatest “sign” that Jesus had to offer, his biggest and most impressive EVIDENCE for his being the savior of mankind, the Son of God.

It does seem a bit obstinate for Thomas to doubt Jesus at this point.  Thomas has presumably already witnessed many amazing miracles performed by Jesus, including some of the seven miracles from the story of Jesus ministry, including the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead.  So, the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the testimony of his fellow disciples ought to have been sufficient evidence in this context (in the story as told by the author of the Gospel of John).  Yet Jesus does not hesitate to provide the conclusive first-hand evidence that Thomas has asked for, and Jesus (or at least the author of this Gospel) sees this as the reason why Thomas comes to BELIEVE in Jesus, to have FAITH in Jesus.  There is no opposition here between EVIDENCE and FAITH.  Rather, EVIDENCE is viewed as the appropriate basis for FAITH.

The FAITH of all the disciples of Jesus, their belief in Jesus, rests upon the EVIDENCE of miracles that they have seen, according to the Gospel of John.  Thomas is not the only disciple that required EVIDENCE for his BELIEF;  he was just a bit more skeptical than the other disciples, according to the Gospel of John, especially Chapter 20 of this Gospel.  So, not only is it a key theme of the Gospel of John that miracles are performed to evoke faith, but this very theme is repeated throughout Chapter 20, which is the context for the verse put forward by Stig Martinsen.  Both the context of the Gospel as a whole, and the context of Chapter 20 in particular are focused on the theme of miracles providing EVIDENCE in support of FAITH.

To be continued…