Did Thomas call Jesus his God?
John 20:24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
What does Thomas’ phrase actually mean?
1. First possible reading
The first way to read the phrase would be that the second “my” indicates two persons:
- My Lord and God = one person
- My Lord and my God = two persons
Normally in Greek if only one person is implied there will only be one “my”.
Philippians 2:25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, (ton adelphon kai sunergon kai sustratioten mou) and your messenger and minister to my need = one person
Exodus 21:5 But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ = more than one person
Note that the above example from Philippians also contains a second example of “your” messenger-and-minister also being one person with one “your”. This is typical of normal Greek style. The examples “my King and my God” are the exception, but possible. They are exceptional partly because of poetic style in Psalms, and also for emphasis.
As evidence for the possibility that Thomas has in mind 2 persons idea, we could consider parallels such as Zech 12:10:
Zech 12:10 And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.
Thomas is looking on him who was pierced (Christ) but aknowledging that it was both Jesus (physically) and God (emotionally as Zechariah) who were pierced. The context in John 20:24 shares with Zechariah 12:10 that it follows immediately from the reception of the Holy Spirit. While Zech. ch 12-14 (and in particular Zech.12:10-13:1) clearly have a future fulfillment, there are some double fulfillments in the aftermath of the resurrection and in early Acts (e.g. Acts 2:37-39) as well as the outpouring of the Spirit. The Lord Jesus himself quotes Zech.13:7 on the night of his crucifixion. These parallels to Zechariah would leave us to conclude
- My Lord (= Lord) and my God (= God)
2. Second possible reading
The first reading above would be reasonable enough from many common examples. However Greek, like English, is fluid on this point. Sometimes a repeated pronoun (such as “my”) can still allow that only one person is meant
These verses are exceptions, but show that the second reading is possible:
Gen.29:14 Laban said to him, “Surely you are [of] my bone and [of] my flesh!” (ek ton oston mou, kai ek tes sarkos mou)
2 Samuel 22:2 He said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer”
Ps.5:2 my King and my God. (ho Basileus mou, kai ho Theos mou)
Ps 35:23 my God and my Lord! (ho Theos mou, kai ho Kurios mou)
Ps.145:1 I will extol you, my God, my King (ho Theos mou, ho Basileus mou)
These compare with:
John 13:14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet (ho Kurios kai ho didaskolos)
John 20:28 My Lord and my God (ho Kurios mou, kai ho Theos mou)
So it is possible that Thomas is seeing “my Lord” and “my God” as one person. But remember that this is only a possibility.
And even if “My Lord and my God” is referring to only one person, we cannot assume that because Thomas is seeing Jesus, he must mean “[You Jesus are] my Lord and My God”. Why not? Because, as we see above, “my God and my Lord!” is an OT exclamation of praise referring to God. Clearly in Ps.35:23 the Psalmist is referring to God, not Jesus, so if Thomas (who believes in God, who believes in the Old Testament) says “My Lord and my God”, the God of Thomas – as a Jew – is still God.
1st Reading or 2nd Reading both possible
Either of the above readings is possible. But ultimately whether “My Lord and my God” = one person, or two, may not matter so much due to the context about Thomas which has been built up earlier in the Gospel of John.
Thomas and the resurrection
Thomas has three major appearances in John. In each one, the subject of Thomas’ doubt is resurrection:
John 11:16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
John 14:15 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
John 20:25 But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”
Note the common theme, which is not accidental. Each of these verses (John 11:16, 14:15, 20:25) is an expression of doubt at the prospect of Christ coming back from death.
1. Thomas and Martha
The first doubting of resurrection occurs in the context of Christ claiming to be able to raise Lazarus:
John 11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Thomas’ fatalism expresses that not only did he not believe that Lazarus would be raised, but also that Christ was leading the disciples to certain death. His doubt is then contrasted with Martha’s belief:
John 11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
2. Thomas and Philip
The next doubt is expressed where Christ speaks not of his ascension (as John 14 is frequently misread) but of his crucifixion:
John 14:4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him [singular, i.e., to Thomas], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
It is often missed that the words “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” is addressed personally “to him” (not “to them”), to Thomas, who is now silent. At this point Philip asks Christ to open that way, to show them the Father:
John 14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. 12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
This time it is Philip in the role of Martha, a partial expression of faith bringing a promise from Christ. So how does this relate to Thomas and “My Lord and my God”? It relates because Christ’s answer to Thomas “No one comes to the Father except through me.” and answer to Philip who is asked to “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, put simply mean Thomas and Philip are being asked to be able to look at Jesus and see God. Thomas and Philip are being asked to believe that Christ is the way to their Lord and their God, and to look at Christ and see their Lord and their God.
3. Thomas and the raised Christ
Then we have the third doubt (quoted above), and Thomas’ stubborn statement about the nail holes. This is is not only doubting Christ, but also the ten disciples, who have already been shown the nail holes themselves (Luke 24:29-30).
John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
So why say “My Lord and My God”?
The question, given the context of what Jesus had asked from Thomas and Philip, is why not say “My Lord and My God!”? What else would we expect Thomas to say given the strong denials he had given — not just the doubts in comparison to Martha (John 11) and Philip (John 14) but the strident denial to the other ten disciples (John 20:25). Only the strongest affirmation would do to undo them.
- Remember that Christ said to Philip:
~ “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
- Remember that Christ said to Thomas:
~ “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Poor Thomas, who cannot be blamed for being absent when the others saw the nail wounds, now seeing Christ – and seeing the Father in him as he and Philip had been told, now redeems himself echoing the cry of the Psalms:
Ps 35:23 my God and my Lord! (ho Theos mou, kai ho Kurios mou)
John 20:28 My Lord and my God (ho Kurios mou, kai ho Theos mou)
There is no problem for a faithful Jew like Thomas saying this phrase under these circumstances. After all, who is Thomas is crediting with having raised Christ from the dead? Is Thomas praising Christ for raising himself? Or is Thomas praising God for doing what he in John ch.11, 14 and 20 three times said he could not believe. The repeated emphasis in the speeches of Acts that makes it certain that Thomas shared the understanding that “God raised Jesus” (see Acts 2:24, 2:32, 3:15, 4:10, 5:30, 10:40, 13:30, 13:37, etc.)
The conclusion not to draw
We have considered two possibilities regarding whether Thomas meant :
- My Lord (Jesus) and My God (God)
- My Lord and my God (God)
The first of these is what the phrase would mean following the normal practice of Greek, and with reference to parallels such as both Christ and God being “pierced” in Zechariah.
The second of these is what the phrase would mean if it was an exclamation from the Psalm 35:23, fulfilling John 14:7.
There is a third:
- My Lord and my God (Jesus)
Why would Thomas say this? Why would Thomas suddenly conclude that Jesus himself is God? That Jesus all this time was actually the Father disguised as a descendant of Adam, Abraham, David, and son of man through Mary? That Jesus was not really dead for three days but simply ‘out of body’ (not a Biblical phrase) and returned to raise himself? This is what many Christians want Thomas to mean, but given what Jesus himself asked in John 14:7 is this really feasible?
The fact that Thomas said “My Lord and my God” does not require that Thomas suddenly decided that Jesus was God, it only requires what Jesus asked of Thomas:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
If Thomas had enough faith, he could have known the Father and seen the Father back in John 14 before Christ was nailed to a cross. He could have been able to turn to Christ in John 14 and say “My Lord and my God” then, instead of lapsing into embarrassed silence and letting Philip continue. Though in John 14 Christ was perhaps deliberately preparing for Thomas the opportunity to outshine the other disciples later – in this verse we are looking at now.
The God of Jesus: “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
We still need to come back and fix Thomas’ exclamation within the rest of the Bible. Jesus gently rebuked Philip “How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” when Philip too was supposed to look at Christ and see his Father. Philip too was supposed to look at Christ and exclaim “My Lord and my God” But Jesus is not asking Thomas, or Philip, or us, to say “My Lord Jesus and my God Jesus” — Jesus never claimed to be God. There is a big difference between Thomas or Philip looking at Jesus and seeing his Father, and many modern Christians who look at Jesus and do not see the Father at all, but only see Jesus as God.
Remember the final words of Christ about his Father on the cross:
Matt. 27: 46 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And his the first words about God when he rose:
John 20:17 ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
What does Christ promise those who overcome:
Revelation 3:12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
This line from Psalm 35:23 “My God and my Lord” which is echoed on Thomas’ lips when he kneels before the risen Christ are words that themselves can be on Christ’s lips.
Psalm 35:21 They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it!” 22 You have seen, O Lord; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
23 Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
Of course we cannot ‘prove’ that “My Lord and my God” was not meant by Thomas to mean “[Jesus you are] My Lord and my God”, simply by the fact that Thomas did not say that. Many Christians, in all sincerity, have probably never questioned that Thomas’ “My Lord and my God” means “[Jesus you are] my Lord and my God”, and that is not going to be undone by pointing out that Thomas was already told that he should have already seen God in Christ back in John 14.
However for that those that can see the Father in Christ (and see God who dwells in Christ’s people) without confusing the Father and Christ into one, then we can take Thomas’ exclamation the same as the OT parallels (in Ps.35:23 etc.) as glorifying “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It is also consistent with Paul’s teaching that Jesus is mediator between man and God, and God is the God and Father of Jesus too:
Rom. 15:6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eph. 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,