Thomas would not believe the report of the other disciples who said they had seen Jesus alive. He only believed in Jesus’ resurrection after Jesus appeared to Him as well. Jesus’ words to Thomas on that day have been immortalized in the Gospel of John: “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

This verse is often used by those who oppose the use of evidence and reason in evangelism. They argue that if God’s blessing is given to those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection without evidence, then apologetic arguments aren’t just unnecessary, but a spiritual hindrance that robs people of the blessing that comes through faith. On its face, Jesus does appear to berate Thomas for requiring evidence of His resurrection while pronouncing a blessing on those who believe without the need for evidence. A closer examination of the passage in its context, however, reveals this reading of the text to be mistaken.

First, this reading of Jesus’ words would contradict the thrust of John’s gospel. John was quite clear that he included Jesus’ miracles to provide evidence that Jesus was who He said He was, so that people might put their faith in Jesus for salvation: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are 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” (John 20:30-31). These words follow immediately on the heels of the verse in question. If John had understood Jesus’ words to Thomas to mean that evidence was unspiritual and unnecessary, surely he would not have immediately contradicted Jesus by telling his readers that he wrote of Jesus’ signs to serve as evidence that Jesus was the Christ and to engender faith in his readers.

Second, we should keep in mind that all of the apostles were similarly situated to Thomas. Like Thomas, they also doubted others’ who had testified to seeing Jesus alive from the dead (Mk 16:10-14; Lk 24:8-11). And like Thomas, they did not come to believe in the resurrection until Jesus appeared to them personally. If Jesus was condemning Thomas’ need for evidence, such condemnation applied equally to the other apostles. If Jesus’ closest associates —those who walked with Him for over three years — needed evidence, how much more those of us who have never met Him in the flesh, living 2000 years after these events?

Third, notice that Jesus did not say “Blessed are those who believe without evidence,” but rather “Blessed are those who have not seen me and yet believe.” Jesus’ concern was not evidence in general, but a particular kind of evidence: empirical evidence. Jesus condemned Thomas’ empiricism, not his desire for evidence. Thomas should not have needed empirical evidence to believe. He already had sufficient evidence to conclude that Jesus had been raised from the dead, namely the testimony of the other apostles and followers of Jesus who had seen Jesus alive. No less than 20 people had already seen Jesus alive from the dead on no less than three separate occasions. Thomas was requiring a level of evidence that was not necessary. Jesus was not condemning Thomas for wanting evidence before believing, but for refusing to believe the evidence already provided to him. Jesus condemned Thomas for requiring the same experience as the other apostles before he would believe. Jesus knew that only an extremely tiny number of people would ever have such an experience. Jesus intended for people to believe based on far less evidence. Thomas was requiring too much.

John’s readers were in the exact same position as Thomas: They had been presented with the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus’ resurrection, and they were expected to believe on that basis – rather than some empirical basis like the apostles experienced. John used Jesus’ words to Thomas to speak to skeptics who reasoned that they can’t be expected to imitate the faith of the apostles without having the same experience as the apostles. John makes clear to his readers that Jesus counts those as “blessed” who believe in His resurrection on the basis of apostolic testimony rather than empirical evidence. Our evidence is the testimony of those who had empirical evidence of the resurrection. Christian apologetics is concerned with providing people with good reasons to trust that those testimonies are reliable and veridical so that they can come to the same conclusion the apostles did, without experiencing what they experienced.

An apologetic for Jesus’ resurrection does not violate what Jesus said to Thomas. No Christian apologist presents empirical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. We provide reasons to trust the testimony of the Evangelists; we do not make Jesus appear before people’s very eyes! While we have many reasons to believe Jesus rose from the dead, we are doing so without having actually seen Jesus, and thus we, too, are blessed.