After the apostles saw the risen Jesus, they reported this miracle to Thomas, who famously replied, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” But when Jesus does appear before him, Thomas does not take Jesus up on his invitation to place his hands in Jesus’ wounds in order to verify his resurrection. Instead, John 20:28 tells us that, “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”
This verse is so damaging to the hypothesis that Jesus is not God that critics often simply wave it away. For example, when Catholic Answers founder Karl Keating debated José Ventilacion from Iglesia ni Cristo (a group that denies the Trinity), Ventilacion simply said in reply to this verse, “Thomas was wrong.”
But if Thomas was wrong, why didn’t Jesus rebuke him? According to New Testament scholar Murray Harris, “Indeed, Jesus’ word to Thomas—‘You have believed’ (v. 29a)— implies the acceptance of his confession, which is then indirectly commended to others (v. 29b). John has endorsed Thomas’s confession by making it his final and climactic Christological affirmation.”
In fact, if he was wrong, why wasn’t Thomas struck down for his blasphemy?
In the New Testament, whenever an apostle is mistaken for God, the apostle corrects those who are worshiping him (eg Acts 14:14–15). In Revelation 19:10, the apostle John falls at the feet of an angel to worship him, but the angel tells him, “You must not do that!”
When Herod Agrippa (the grandson of Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus when he was an infant) gives an address to the people of Tyre and Sidon they shout in response, “The voice of a god, and not of man!” Luke then tells us, “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23).
Yet Jesus did not correct Thomas or tell him to “give God the glory.” No angel smote him. This should lead us to the conclusion that there was nothing to correct. Thomas’s statement of faith speaks the truth. If that is the case, then we should imitate Thomas and not be afraid to address Jesus as our “Lord and God” as well.
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses say that Thomas was so overcome with joy that he didn’t know what he was saying. But in other Scripture passages, we are told explicitly when the apostles say something they don’t mean. After Jesus’ transfiguration, for instance, Peter says impulsively that he will build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. In response to this exclamation, Luke describes Peter as “not knowing what he said” (Luke 9:33), while Mark says that Peter “did not know what to say, for they were exceedingly afraid” (Mark 9:6).
Jehovah’s Witnesses also can’t say that Thomas was merely making an exclamation, like how some people say, “Oh, my God!” when they are surprised. Even in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ own New World Translation of Holy Scripture, John 20:28 says, “In answer Thomas said to him: ‘My Lord and my God!’” So, Thomas didn’t merely express surprise, he said it to Jesus because Jesus is his (and our) Lord and God.
One Muslim apologetics website claims that in John 20:28 the apostle Thomas is only saying that Jesus is “like God,” because one ancient manuscript, called the Codex Bezae, omits the Greek definite article ho (the) before the Greek word for God (theos). After citing the work of Bart Ehrman to support this fact about this manuscript, they go on to defend the claim that the absence of the definite article before the Greek word for God proves that Thomas addressed Jesus as a mighty prophet of God but not the mighty, true God himself. But this misuses Ehrman’s scholarship to support the view that the Codex Bezae records what John originally wrote.
Every other ancient manuscript records Thomas using the definite article and saying to Jesus, “The Lord of me and the God of me” [ho kyrios mou kai ho theos mou]. New Testament professor Brian Wright points out that the Codex Bezae “is an eccentric manuscript and regularly drops the article,” so it probably doesn’t reflect the original reading of John 20:28. Ehrman conjectures that the scribe who copied the Codex Bezae intentionally left out the article ho and kept theos in order to thwart heretics who claimed that Jesus and the Father were the same person.
So this is just evidence that an overzealous scribe in the fifth century incorrectly copied previous manuscripts, not that those manuscripts or the original text of John 20:28 does not affirm the divinity of Christ. Moreover, as Wright points out, even if the original text lacked the definite article before theos, Granville Sharp’s Rule would apply, thus making it undeniable that Jesus is identified as theos, or the one God, in this verse. In fact, the Muslim apologist’s reliance on Bart Ehrman will come back to haunt him, because elsewhere Ehrman states, “[T]he Gospel of John—in which Jesus does make such divine claims—does indeed portray him as God.”