Did Thomas call Jesus “God?”
John 20:26-29 (NASB) 26 And after eight days again His disciples were 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 your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
This passage is one of a very few which apparently refers to Jesus as “God.” Such statements are used by Trinitarians as proof of Jesus’ divinity, being co-equal and co-eternal with God. In their thinking, merely being called “God” makes Jesus part of a Trinity. Yet, no passage that refers to Jesus as “God” can support the weight of this claim. For example, Psalm 45:6-7 states the following: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” This passage is quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9 and applied to the Son: “But to the Son He says: ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.” The honest observer should notice that in the above Psalm quoted in Hebrews the Son is not equal with the Father in any sense. It is clear that while the Son is indeed called “God,” He has a “God” above Him who is His “God,” who appointed Him a throne, a scepter, and a Kingdom. This shows that the Son is inferior to the Father in rank (even though both are called “God”) and says absolutely nothing at all about “divinity” (ontological nature or essence). Also, the Son’s role as “God” in this context is limited to His Kingdom when He will reign as King over all the earth in the place of God. Thus, the title “God,” at least in this instance, refers to the role to be filled by the Son as the supreme Sovereign during the Kingdom age. Apart from the Kingdom age, this passage cannot be used to support the alleged divinity of Jesus Christ.
Granville Sharp (1735-1813), an English scholar, politician, and leader in the British abolitionist movement, developed a controversial rule of Greek grammar which in his opinion supported the divinity of Christ in certain passages which he believed were mistranslated in the common English translations of the day. Sharp’s Rule basically stated that when two singular, personal nouns of the same case occur together and are separated by καὶ (and), if the first noun has the article but the second does not, both nouns refer to the same person. However, when both nouns have the definite article they refer to separate persons. One problem for Sharp, however, was the above passage where Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” Sharp believed this to be an exception to his rule. The Greek reads:
ὁ κύριός μου καὶ ὁ θεός μου
the Lord of me and the God of me
The definite article appears with both nouns (Lord, God) which according to Sharp’s rule should indicate that “Lord” and “God” are two distinct persons. Supposing Sharp’s rule to be correct, and supposing that Thomas meant to refer to Jesus with both titles, one would expect Thomas to have said, ὁ κύριός καὶ θεός μου (the Lord and God of me) without repeating the article and without repeating the genitive “of me” after each title.
It should also be noted that in his statement Thomas did not use “God” in the vocative case (spelled θεέ) which is the case and spelling used when someone is being directly addressed by their name or title. For example, in Matt. 27:46, Jesus addressed His Father while on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (quoting Psalm 22:1). Jesus used the vocative case of θεός which is θεέ. He said “θεέ μου, θεέ μου “God of Me, God of Me,” calling out to God. Thomas did not do this but used the nominative case θεός. This form does not directly address someone but uses the titles “Lord” and “God” as the subjects of the genitive “of me.” It is similar to saying “this is my Lord, this is my God.”
There has been endless theological debate about the meaning of Thomas’ statement. Trinitarians claim this statement proves that Jesus is God in essence (ontological nature) and thus part of the Trinity. Some non-Trinitarians, in order to answer the Trinitarian argument, have gone far in the opposite direction and claim that Thomas was making an interjection or exclamation of utter shock similar to saying, “O my Lord! O my God!” Other non-Trinitarians simply point out that occasionally the term “God” is even used of rulers in Scripture, and so claim that Thomas’ statement does not necessarily indicate divinity. While this is technically true, I believe there is a much better biblical response to Trinitarian claims about this passage. I would like to offer an interpretation which I believe fits much better with the theology and jargon of John’s Gospel and conforms to Sharp’s Rule as well.
Just before His crucifixion, Jesus had a very interesting conversation with His disciples. He indicated that He was going away to the Father. Thomas then posed a question to Jesus and Philip asked a follow-up question. Jesus’ response to Thomas and Philip sheds some very important light on Thomas’ statement.
John 14:5-11 (LGV) 5 Thomas says to Him, “Master, we have not observed where you are going, and how can we observe the path?” 6 Jesus says to him, “I am the Path and the Truth and the Life. No one comes toward the Father except through Me. 7 If you had known Me, you would have known the Father also. And from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” 8 Philip says to Him, “Master, show us the Father and it satisfies us.” 9 Jesus says to him, “So much time I am with you, and you have not known Me, Philip? The one having seen Me has seen the Father, and how are you saying show us the Father? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me? The sayings that I speak to you, I am not speaking from Myself. Also the Father, the one dwelling in Me, He is performing the deeds. 11 Trust Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. But if not, trust Me because of the deeds themselves.
Thomas was not present when Jesus first appeared to the disciples after His resurrection. When he was told that Jesus had risen from the dead he refused to believe. However, eight days later when Jesus showed up again Thomas was present. Consider now Thomas’ reaction in light of Jesus’ statements above to him and to Philip:
John 20:24-29 (LGV) 24 But Thomas, one of the twelve (the one called ‘Twin’), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 Then the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Master.” But he said to them, “Unless I should see the imprints of the nails in His hands and I should thrust my finger into the imprint of the nails and put my hand into His side, I will certainly not believe. 26 And after eight days His disciples were inside and Thomas with them, the doors having been closed, Jesus comes and stood in the midst and said, “Peace to you.” 27 Afterward He said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here and observe My hands; and bring your hand and thrust it into My side, and do not become a disbeliever, but a believer.” 28 And Thomas responded and said to Him, “My Master and my God!” 29 Jesus says to him, “Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed. Blessed [are] those not having seen and have believed.”
What exactly did Thomas believe? Was it only that Jesus had been raised from the dead? How, and by whom? Or could it be that Thomas suddenly believed what Jesus previously told him that he would see when He said, “If you had known Me, you would have known the Father also. And from now on you know Him and have seen Him,” and then commanded him to “Trust Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me. But if not, trust Me because of the deeds themselves. I would like to suggest that at this instant Thomas recalled Jesus’ words and exclaimed that He not only could see Jesus alive, but that he could see the God in Jesus by this amazing deed of God in Jesus, raising Him from the dead. Thomas saw precisely what Jesus said he would see, and he did believe just as Jesus previously commanded him to believe. Thus, this passage is not an exception to Sharp’s Rule at all, but “Lord” and “God” are indeed two distinct persons in Thomas’ remark. This explanation also fits nicely with Paul’s statement:
1 Cor. 8:4-6 (LGV) 4 Concerning then the eating of the idol-sacrifices, we have observed that in the world an idol is nothing, and “There is no God except one.” 5 For even if there are also so-called “gods,” whether in the sky or on the land, as there are even many gods and many masters, 6 but for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things [originated], and we unto Him. There is also one Master, Jesus Anointed, through whom all things [originated], and we through Him.
Likewise, John’s stressing the concept of God’s dwelling in His Son and doing His works through His Son was also intended to support Paul’s earlier teaching:
2 Cor. 5:18-19 (LGV) 18 Yet everything comes from God, the one having reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Anointed, and has given to us the administration of the reconciliation, 19 how that God was in the Anointed one, reconciling the world to Himself, not reckoning to them their sins, and having placed among us the message of reconciliation.
7 thoughts on “Did Thomas call Jesus “God?””
Tim, you say “[Thomas] could see God in Jesus” and “‘Lord’ and ‘God’ are indeed two distinct persons in Thomas’ remark”.
How isn’t this hypostatic union?
“Hypostatic Union” says that Jesus is himself both 100% human and 100% divine. That is the divine Son of God fully retained all of His divine nature and attributes when He came as Man. However, when Jesus repeatedly said that the Father was in Him doing the works, IMO it was the Father in Jesus that Thomas was acknowledging when he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” He was essentially acknowledging what Paul referred to as: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 NKJ). In other words, the source of the supernatural power was the Father and not inherently Jesus’ power.
A similar distinction can be made regarding John 1:16 “And of His fullness we have all received,” and Col. 1:19-20 “For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” and Col. 2:9 “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” All of these passages are used to support “hypostatic union” that Christ Himself consisted of two natures. As I read Scripture, Jesus as man had one nature which was 100% human. But the Father dwelled IN HIM by His Spirit, and was the source of all of Jesus’ miracles.
I guess I have a difficulty to differentiate between:
* Jesus is 100 % divine.
* “In Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col 2:9) and “God was in Christ” (2 Cor 5:19).
Can you see any key difference between these statements that can help me separate them?
The Trinitarian doctrine of “hypostatic union” asserts that the eternal “God the Son” had no beginning, that He existed eternally along with two other divine Persons, “God the Father” and the “God the Holy Spirit.” All three “Persons” have the same nature and essential inherent divine qualities. When the Son (Word) became flesh, He added human nature (flesh) without diminishing any of His divine qualities. Consequently, Trinitarians take all of Jesus’ miracles as proof that He is “God” (inherently possesses divinity) and that Jesus’ own power was the source of His miracles.
However, Phil. 2:5-10 claims that He “emptied Himself” of His “equality with God” [divinity] in order to become “in the likeness of men.” This is complete transformation from divinity to humanity. Consequently, Jesus was 100% human just as you and I are. All of His miracles were done, not by Jesus’ own inherent power, but by the Father doing the works through Him. Thus Jesus was only a conduit or agent God used to perform the miracles. Jesus spoke the words the Father told Him to say, and the Father performed the miracles.
There is a vast difference between Jesus being inherently “divinity” in His own nature vs. God (who is divine by nature) dwelling in Jesus. 2 Cor. 5:19 and Col. 2:9 do not speak of Jesus as being inherently divine, but of God’s dwelling in Him. Of course, since “the heaven of heavens cannot contain” God in His entirety (1 Kings 8:27), God cannot be confined to a location on earth or to a human body. However, since the “Spirit of God” dwelled in Jesus, and the “Spirit of God” is a limited manifestation of God’s presence and power, then God’s dwelling in Jesus and Jesus having the fulness of the Spirit of God are the same thing. (“Fullness” refers to the maximum capacity any human can possess the Spirit of God, so that “fullness,” as a term of quantity, refers to the person’s capacity not to the totality of God’s Spirit or Person).
This is why after Jesus told the disciples that the Father was dwelling in Him and doing all of the works, and telling Jesus everything He should say (John 14:6-11), He then told them that the works that He did they also would do, and greater works (v. 12), and the “Helper” (which was the Spirit of God dwelling in Him) was currently “with you (in Jesus) and shall be in you” (v. 17). In other words, the same Spirit and presence of the Father which dwelled in Jesus was going to dwell in the 12 Apostles. This transfer of God’s presence from Jesus to the Apostles began on Pentecost.
Later, Paul prayed that the Ephesians “may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19), using the same language used of Jesus in Col. 1:19 & 2:9. Did Paul pray that the Ephesians would all become inherently divine beings like God, or become a “hypostatic union” allegedly “fully God and fully man?” No. John meant the same thing when He wrote, “and of His fullness we have all received” (John 1:6).
The true Biblical doctrine of Jesus Christ is that He was 100% human and did not possess an inherent divine nature. However, God the Father, by His “Spirit/Breath”, dwelled in the Man Jesus to the fullest extent possible of any human (John 3:34), and to a lesser extent in the Apostles, and to a lesser extent in all true Christians.
Thank you, Tim!
My question is based on the 3 statements below excerpted from your comments. What is meant by “you will do even greater works”? IMO the greatest work one can perform would be raising someone from the dead which Jesus performed. Now my assumption is that “works” mean “miracles”. Unless I am misunderstanding the meaning of “greater” which I interpret as “scope” when perhaps it refers to “quantity”. After looking at the Greek it almost appears it could be either one.
Based on Eph 3:19 and John 1:6 it appears obvious that this was not limited to just Jesus and the Apostles.
How does one achieve the “fullness?”
(“Fullness” refers to the maximum capacity any human can possess the Spirit of God, so that “fullness,” as a term of quantity, refers to the person’s capacity not to the totality of God’s Spirit or Person).
This is why after Jesus told the disciples that the Father was dwelling in Him and doing all of the works, and telling Jesus everything He should say (John 14:6-11), He then told them that the works that He did they also would do, and greater works (v. 12)…
Later, Paul prayed that the Ephesians “may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19)
Yes, “greater” can mean either greater in quality or quantity. Since Jesus was only one Person and could only be in one place at a time, by saying this to the 11 disciples no doubt He meant quantity.
While Paul prayed that the Ephesians would also “be filled with all the fulness of God,” we must remember that God Himself choses which gifts to give specific people, and which miracles He would perform for which persons and for what purpose. The point is that God always is the one doing the mighty works, never the person. The promises of God are always linked to His overall plan at any given time and place in history. If and when He chooses to do something spectacular, he will find the right person to work through. In OT times there were times when God’s power was manifested in mighty ways. But the majority of the time He withdrew from His collective people because of their collective disobedience. With the condition of Christianity today, I am not surprised that there is not much visible regarding God’s direct interaction. Just keep in mind that to be “filled” with the Spirit simply means that God is pleased to occupy our vessel. It does not mean that He will choose us as a conduit for His power. All of that depends on His overall plan. What is important for us is to make sure we are a clean vessel that He can use if He so chooses (2 Tim. 2:20-26), and also always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks concerning our hope (1 Pet. 3:15).