Greg Koukl • Stand to Reason

I’ve warned before about the habit of reducing biblical accounts to mere spiritual metaphors—a popular sermon practice nowadays, unfortunately. David slaying Goliath is not a lesson about facing the “giants” in our lives. Jesus silencing the stormy sea is not an invitation to consider the storms he could hush in our own lives. Those are not the reasons those accounts are in the Bible.

Of course, biblical writers do use metaphors, and all figurative speech is meant to communicate some literal truth. Occasionally, though, readers search for a literal truth behind a metaphor that isn’t actually a metaphor at all.

So what did Jesus mean when he dressed down doubting Thomas after the resurrection, telling him:

Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed(John 20:29)

To many readers, Jesus’ reference to “seeing” is obviously a figurative reference to evidence—e.g., “Blessed are those who trust in Christ without demanding proof.”

Frankly, I cringe every time I hear this take on that text coming from the pulpit, and I’ve heard it too often. According to that view, Jesus was faulting Thomas for seeking evidence to buttress his belief instead of taking the “blessed” path of blind faith.


There are two problems with reading Jesus this way. The first one is obvious if you follow the STR dictum, “Never read a Bible verse,” and read the entire context. The second problem, though, is not so apparent. It occurred to me only recently as a possibility, and then a Gospel cross-reference confirmed my thinking.

First, the blessed-are-those-of-blind-faith interpretation completely contradicts something John writes in the very next verse. In John 20:30-31—the verses immediately following Jesus’ reprimand of Thomas—John reveals his precise reason for writing a Gospel filled with reports of Jesus’ miracles.

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

You see the problem, of course. If Jesus is commending blind faith to Thomas in verse 29, then John is contradicting Jesus in the very next verse. Not likely.

Sometimes context clarifies what a writer meant, but sometimes it makes clear what a writer could not have meant. Jesus couldn’t be chiding Thomas for demanding evidence for faith when John says that’s exactly why he wrote his Gospel.

So now we know what Jesus didn’t mean, but what did he mean? If he wasn’t applauding leaps of faith, why was he so hard on Thomas?

As I pondered this question, a thought dawned on me. Maybe Jesus wasn’t using “seeing” as a metaphor at all. Maybe he was speaking literally. Maybe he chastised Thomas for demanding a face-to-face encounter—literally “seeing” Christ—before he’d believe his friends who did have a face-to-face encounter.

That is precisely what I discovered in Mark’s account. Mark reports that when Jesus appeared to all eleven disciples together—including Thomas—he “reproached them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).

In short, Thomas’s demand that he first poke his fingers in Jesus’ wounds before believing was a bit much. His friends’ report should have been adequate evidence, ergo the scold.


Our insight clears up another confusion regarding “seeing” and faith. Paul tells the Corinthians, “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Once again, Paul is not using “seeing” as a metaphor to downplay evidence. He’s speaking literally. The mistake becomes clear when we note—once again—the larger context:

Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. (2 Cor. 5:6–8)

While we’re here on earth, Paul says, we don’t see Jesus—obviously. One day we will, but not yet. Now we don’t see him, yet we still trust him (“walk by faith”) even though he’s not physically present. It’s not a metaphor. Paul was speaking literally.

Tim Barnett summed it up this way: “There are those who see the evidence and believe, and there are those who read the evidence and believe.” Why? Because what they read is a reliable record of what others actually saw.

That should have been good enough for Thomas, Jesus thought. It also should be good enough for us. And it is.

Drawing proper conclusions from Scripture and rightly applying them to your life is one of the ways STR helps you and others think clearly—and clarity matters when it comes to spiritual truth.

Because of your support, STR is here to equip you to ably share your Christian worldview convictions with others—not tentatively, but thoughtfully with confident answers.

You make this happen as you give!

Would you consider a generous gift today to help STR do even more? Your gift of any amount now will make a substantial difference and go right to work to equip a growing cadre of confident and clear-thinking Christian ambassadors.

With your help, STR teaches, trains, and touches lives around the globe. Your much-needed support now will reach believers like you through popular and growing initiatives such as STR U, Reality Apologetics Conferences, Outposts, and so much more.

Please let me hear from you right away with your gift.

And thank you so much for your friendship, prayers, and ongoing generosity. I appreciate you!

Trusting without seeing,

Gregory Koukl