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Dictionnaire testimonial et mémoriel

The apostle Thomas, called “the doubting Thomas”

Thomas l’Apôtre, dit « Thomas l’incrédule »
De apostel Thomas, of ‘de ongelovige Thomas’
Aurélia Kalisky
Traduction de Sarah Voke
p. 163-164
Cet article est une traduction de :
Thomas l’Apôtre, dit « Thomas l’incrédule » [fr]

Texte intégral

1Thomas is one of Jesus’ twelve apostles mentioned in the canonical gospels. Yet, only the Gospel of John grants him a significance and a unique place by narrating an episode where Thomas, who was absent when Christ first appeared, doubts the resurrection miracle. He asks to see and to touch Jesus’ wounds in order to believe : “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 it” (John, 20:25). Jesus commands the doubtful apostle to come closer, to see and to touch his body. A significant ellipse in the narrative prevents from affirming whether Thomas touched Christ or not. What is known nevertheless, is that he reaffirms his faith when he sees the Lord, thus inspiring Jesus’ famous words “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have believed” (John, 20:29). Even though there is mention of the apostle’s incredulity in the other gospels (namely in the Gospels of Mark and Luke), this pericope in the Gospel of John becomes emblematic of the relation between faith and perception through the senses and progressively the question of religious doubt. This question indeed raises the issue of the value and the meaning of testimonies torn between their visual dimension (autopsy) submitting to laws of verification and concordance and the movement beyond a regime of proof, thus making it possible to reach a realm of superior truth: one of faith which potentially establishes “chains” of witnesses, resting upon a theological message (Kerygma) transmitted by the evangelist. But the pericope also broaches the question of the value of the written word in terms of transmission (of faith, but also of a past episode in a narrative form), since the Gospel specifies that if Jesus performed other miracles, however undocumented, the resurrection was written in order to spread faith. As pointed out by Paul Ricoeur, the dialectic between testimony as a confession of inner truth (linked to faith) and narrative testimony (as confirmation of facts which prevail victory in dispute before the eschatological court), clearly visible in the pericope of the doubting Thomas, cannot be detached from a legal context understood in an analogical sense and broadened to the notion of an eschatological court. Thomas’ testimony, understood as a verification of a fact by way of an autopsy, continues and completes the legal rule on testimonies already established in Deuteronomy (19:15) and illustrated by the Justinian law of testis unus testis nullus, all the while indicating that it necessarily requires it to be surpassed by a Christian testimony related to faith. In this regard, the figure of doubting Thomas, as he is depicted in the Gospel of John, sums up well how the religious and the legal, proof and faith are interwoven. The pericope of Thomas should in this way be considered as a key scene. This is suggested by the long posterity it has been the object of, thanks to the multiple interpretations both within theology and more largely the Christian tradition, as well as within Western cultural memory, namely due to the numerous representations he has inspired in schools of fine arts.

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Brankaer, Johanna, ‘Le témoignage: mémorial, effacement, synthèse existentielle’, in David Martens & Virginie Renard (eds), ‘Écritures de la mémoire. Entre témoignage et mensonge’, Interférences littéraires 1, 2008, 35-52.

‘Gospel of John’, The Holy Bible, New International Version, Hodder & Staughton, 1984.

Matena, Andreas, ‘Tange et Vide – Konzepte der Zeugenschaft in der Thomasperikope und ihrer Exegese’, in Wolfram Drews & Heike Schlie (eds.), Zeugnis und Zeugenschaft. Perspektiven aus der Vormoderne, Munich: Fink, 2011, 119-136.

Most, Glenn W., Doubting Thomas, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Paul Ricoeur, ‘L’Herméneutique du témoignage’ [1972], in Lectures 3. Aux frontières de la philosophie, Paris: Seuil, 1994, 107-139.

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Aurélia Kalisky, « The apostle Thomas, called “the doubting Thomas” »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire, 120 | 2015, 163-164.

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Aurélia Kalisky, « The apostle Thomas, called “the doubting Thomas” »Témoigner. Entre histoire et mémoire [En ligne], 120 | 2015, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2015, consulté le 25 septembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Aurélia Kalisky

ZfL Berlin

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