John 20:28 and the Testimony of Luke/Acts – Part 1
I have been thinking recently about the aftermath of Thomas’ confession of Christ as Lord and God in John 20:28. This was truly a momentous moment in the development of Christian theology; despite this its impact seems to have grown slowly. We do not see the same clear statements of Jesus as God in Acts as we find in Thomas’ confession of Jesus. For some, this relative silence casts doubt on whether Thomas can have thought of Jesus as God in the traditional Christian sense of this term.
The problem outlined above may be termed in the following way: due to the incredible nature of the understanding that Jesus is God incarnate, surely the early Christians would not have been silent about this when preaching to the world. Furthermore, given this doctrine’s place in Christian theology as a fundamental tenet necessary for salvation how could it not have been loudly and clearly proclaimed.
This post will form the first of a multi-part series, the purpose of which will be to argue that the claimed silence of Acts does not impact the view that there is a high Christology in John 20:28. In the course of these posts I will also summarise an argument that Lord and God in John 20:28 were not intended as ontological statements, but as titles pointing to Jesus’s true identity. This focus on Jesus’ identity and not his ontology fits in well within the context of Acts.
“[The] origins [of Thomas’ words] are most likely to be found in the political arena and the address “Our Lord and God” may reflect the edict of Domitian, who insisted that he be called Dominus et Deus Noster (“Our Lord and God”).”
“The Roman emperor Domitian (a.d. 81–96) in particular, during whose tenure the Fourth Gospel most likely was written, wished to be addressed as dominus et deus noster, “our Lord and God” (Suetonius, Domitian 13.2). Hence, the present reference may on a secondary level be designed to counter Roman emperor worship”
The purpose of this post will be to merely start raising a few questions around the relevance of references to Domitian when assessing Thomas’ words “My Lord and my God”. My focus in this post will be only on the Jewish background, and not on how they were interpreted at the time of Domitian.
Broadly speaking, two approaches that must be considered when referencing Domitian in discussions of John 20:28:
1. Thomas’ words as recorded in the Bible were spoken by him. The primary interpretive focus ought therefore to be on what they meant to Thomas and his immediate audience. The reason for recording them in the Gospel of John is also important, as is the way they were understood by John’s audience but these are secondary considerations.
2. Thomas’ words as recorded in the Bible were attributed to Thomas by a later author whether John or a Johannine community/redactor. This was in an attempt to counter references to Domitian with similar words.
The purpose of this post is to briefly examine the impact that the previous appearances and disappearance of Jesus would have had on Thomas’ understanding as to who he was. It will be shown that supernatural disappearance of Jesus in Luke 24:31 and the supernatural appearance in Luke 24:36/John 19:19 would have contributed to Thomas’ confession of Jesus as God. The appearance of Jesus in the latter two passages will also be demonstrated to have been despite locked doors – something that helps explain Thomas’ request for physical proof.
As far as contextual counter-arguments go, the Unitarians have not left John 20:28 to purely grammatical speculation but have also offered accounts as to why the context favours their interpretation. These interpretations of the text rightly look to place it within the context that it is found and to do justice to the preceding narrative. This post is the first of an intended two posts that will look at a small number of the contextual issues involved in the interpretation of John 20:28.
In this post the 7-8 day timeline of the post resurrection appearances leading up to the appearance to Thomas will be looked at. It will be shown that these 7-8 days contained revelation about who Jesus is along with the time needed for Thomas to process that information before concluding Jesus to be God. Jesus pre and post-resurrection words will also be briefly mentioned showing that a Trinitarian understanding of Thomas’ words are possible.