HOUSMAIL Number HM#014 - MY LORD AND MY GOD 12 January 1998
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "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." Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them.
The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, " My Lord and my God !" (John 20:24-29)
This incident is often quoted as a "proof text" to support the claim that Thomas addresses Jesus as "Lord" because he recognises Him as YAHWEH of the Old Testament. However, this misuse of the text is VERY confusing, and illogical.
Jesus Himself says that there is only ONE TRUE GOD ..... His Father! And He also uses those same words "My God", when speaking of His Father. (e.g Matt 27:46, John 20:17, Rev 3:2,12) Obviously then, when Thomas uses them, he is not contradicting Jesus. He does NOT mean that Jesus is the One True God! He MUST mean something else. So then, how are we to understand Thomas' words?
THE TRANSLATION PROBLEM
In the Old Testament Hebrew text, there are a number of different words which are translated as "lord". The Greeks have only ONE word available to translate ALL of these words. (kurios). However, this word also often means no more than "master", as an acknowledgment of authority. (It is used many times this way, of Jesus.) It is also used as a respectful form of address to men. e.g. "sir" in John 12:21; 20:15; Acts 16:30.
Hebrew also has many different words for "god". Again, Greek has only ONE. (theos)
It would be a serious error indeed to assume that every time the words "lord" or "God" appear in the NT, they refer to Yahweh. For instance, it would be patently absurd to suggest that when Festus addresses Agrippa as "my lord", in Acts 25:26, that he means that Agrippa is Yahweh! But alas ..... an error of that same magnitude is being made with the verse in John! We must learn to read such passages a little more honestly.
There are many places in the New Testament where, in order to understand which Old Testament word for "lord" or "God" is intended, we must depend heavily on both the context, and the appropriate OT source.
Psalm 110:1 refers to TWO different "lords". The first "LORD" in this verse is YAHWEH. The second "lord" is ADONI, "my lord" to whom Yahweh is speaking. This "my lord" is the Messiah, the Son of Yahweh.
In passing we note that when this Psalm is quoted in Matthew 22:44, the NT Greek text, and also our English translations, are unable to make the essential distinction between the two different Hebrew words for "lord". To understand the importance of that, we must go to the Old Testament passage from which the words are quoted by Matthew. (1)
Since the OT is so very positive that Jesus is NOT Yahweh, it is not difficult to conclude that Thomas must be referring to this second "lord" from Psalm 110:1, when he calls Jesus "my lord". After all, that is EXACTLY who Jesus is!
The overwhelming evidence of the Old Testament is that God (Yahweh) and Jesus are NOT the same. In the face of all that evidence, it becomes obvious that the use of the words " my God " by Thomas, CANNOT mean that Thomas is addressing Him as the ONE LORD GOD of Israel. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
We need to search for a different meaning for Thomas' words.
Jesus provides the answer in John 10:34. It is not inappropriate to refer to MEN who are "sons of God", by the title "god". (See also Psalm 82:6) But that does not mean that they ARE God. In several places the OT refers to men as "god", when they stand in place of God, to speak for Him. e.g. Moses in Exodus 7:1, and the "judges" (Hebrew "elohim") in Exodus 21:6; 22:8; 22:9.
That is what Jesus means when He speaks to Philip in John 14:7-11. Of course, it is obvious that Jesus is not the Father who alone is God (John 17:3) but the one who reveals the Father to us. The Father dwells in Him. (verse 11) And the writer to the Hebrews also tells us that Jesus is the SON through whom God speaks. He is uniquely equipped for this task, because He personally bears the IMAGE (likeness in character) of God, and REFLECTS the glory of God. (Hebrews 1:2-3)
It is in this sense that Thomas acknowledges Him as "my God". The words "my lord" confess Jesus as the "my lord" of Psalm 110:1, the Messiah. The words "my God", tell us that Thomas believes that the Messiah stands in place of God, to speak to us for God, to reveal God to us ..... by His words and example.
WHY DID JOHN WRITE HIS GOSPEL?
In the verses which follow immediately after the incident which we have been considering, John tells us WHY he wrote this Gospel.
"Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)
We note carefully that John did NOT write to convince us that Jesus is Yahweh! Rather, He wrote to convince us that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ) the Son of God (Yahweh).
Taken properly in context, it must be obvious that those words used by Thomas, tell us that THIS is what he believed about Jesus, when He said "my lord and my God".
And Paul tells us that when we join with Thomas, bowing the knee to Jesus to confess Him as "lord", then Yahweh Himself is glorified by our submission to the authority delegated to His Son. (Philippians 2:9-11)
1. For a more detailed discussion of this subject, see Bible Digest No 86.
"SIT THOU AT MY RIGHT HAND" - (Psalm 110:1)