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The presentation of evidence in the Gospel attributed to John
 
By Elson T. Elizaga
 

JOHN 20:19-29 IS MOST LIKELY WRITTEN BY TWO AUTHORS: ONE WHO BELIEVES EVIDENCE SHOULD BE PRESENTED, THE OTHER WHO TEACHES BELIEF IS SUFFICIENT:


Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. [PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE] The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. [PRESENTATION OF EVIDENCE AND INVITATION TO TOUCH THE EVIDENCE] Stop doubting and believe.”

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

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” [EVIDENCE NOT NECESSARY. BELIEF IS SUFFICIENT.]

My comment

Jesus, from this specific narrative, chose to present evidence, indicating that he valued evidence, even though the disciples had not ask for it. At least in this story, and there could be others discarded by Iraneus, Jesus was into forensics, like Thomas.

So, from 19 to 29 is a contradiction within a Gospel story. There are cross-Gospel contradictions, but this one is internal. When we approach this story as believers, we can't see anything questionable, but as students of literary criticism, we can discover.

Another interesting detail are the doors locked "for fear of Jewish leaders". Jesus was Jewish and his identity was still unclear -- or was it? -- BEFORE he presented evidence. But he went inside. A lawyer today would ask: If the disciples couldn't identify Jesus outside the doors, if they had locked the doors for security reason, why did they let Jesus in?

The simplest explanation is they had already identified him prior to his entry, or at least they didn't see this person as a threat. If they had already identified him as Jesus, then the act of presenting evidence by Jesus was not necessary to prove his identity. And yet, Jesus proceeded, on his own, to SHOW what he must have considered to be of absolute importance -- not only once, but twice. And not only twice, but with the invitation to use the sense of touch in addition to sight.

The entire presentation and result, therefore, follows the scientific method.

  1. Observation: There's a man outside.
  2. Hypothesis: That's Jesus.
  3. Experimentation: Ocular inspection of the hand and side.
  4. Further experimentation: Ocular and tactile examination of the hand and side by Thomas.
  5. Conclusion: This man is Jesus.

And yet, in my experience as a former born-again Christian, and in my attendance of Catholic gatherings, the emphasis is only on the last statement: "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

This emphasis is highly debatable. It is also dangerous because it can be used by anyone who claims to have divine connection -- there are three men in the Philippines who claim to be sons of God -- and by anyone who claims this story is fact because faith alone is needed to prove it.Black square indicates end of article.

 
Published March 23, 2013. Copyright © Elson T. Elizaga