John 20:28
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. (KJV)

This verse has often been put forward by Trinitarians as one of the clearest examples of Jesus being called God in the New Testament. However, we believe that there are better ways to understand these words of Thomas without believing that Thomas is calling Jesus God.

The first way one could understand Thomas’s words is that both “My Lord” and “My God” are in reference to Jesus, but that the phrase “My God” should be understood as “my god” with a lowercase G, thus, Thomas would not be calling Jesus the supreme God, but ‘god’ in a lesser sense. The second way to understand Thomas’s words would be that “My Lord” is in reference to Jesus and “My God” is in reference to the Father, who was working through Jesus.

1. Let us look at the first understanding further. Jesus never referred to himself as “God” in the absolute sense, so what precedent then would Thomas have for calling Jesus “my God”? The Greek language uses the word theos, (“God” or “god”) with a broader meaning than is customary today. In the Greek language and in the culture of the day, “GOD” (all early manuscripts of the Bible were written in all capital letters) was a descriptive title applied to a range of authorities, including the Roman governor (Acts 12:22), and even the Devil (2 Cor. 4:4). It was used of someone with divine authority. It was not limited to its absolute sense as a personal name for the supreme Deity as we use it today.

Given the language of the time, and given that Jesus did represent the Father and have divine authority, the expression used by Thomas is certainly understandable. On the other hand, to make Thomas say that Jesus was “God,” and thus 1/3 of a triune God, seems incredible. In Concessions of Trinitarians, Michaelis, a Trinitarian, writes:

I do not affirm that Thomas passed all at once from the extreme of doubt to the highest degree of faith, and acknowledged Christ to be the true God. This appears to me too much for the then existing knowledge of the disciples; and we have no intimation that they recognized the divine nature of Christ before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I am therefore inclined to understand this expression, which broke out in the height of his astonishment, in a figurative sense, denoting only “whom I shall ever reverence in the highest degree”…Or a person raised from the dead might be regarded as a divinity; for the word God is not always used in the strict doctrinal sense” [Michaelis is quoted by Dana, ref. below].

Remember that it was common at that time to call God’s representatives “God,” and the Old Testament contains quite a few examples. When Jacob wrestled with “God,” it is clear that he was actually wrestling with an angel (Hosea 12:4—For more on that, see the note on Genesis 16:7-13).

There are many Trinitarian authorities who admit that there was no knowledge of Trinitarian doctrine at the time Thomas spoke. For example, if the disciples believed that Jesus was “God” in the sense that many Christians do, they would not have “all fled” just a few days before when he was arrested. The confession of the two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus demonstrated the thoughts of Jesus’ followers at the time. Speaking to the resurrected Christ, whom they mistook as just a traveler, they talked about Jesus. They said Jesus “was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God…and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:19-21). The Bible is clear that these disciples thought Jesus was a “prophet.” Even though some of the apostles realized that Jesus was the Christ, they knew that according to the Old Testament prophecies, the Christ, the anointed of God, was to be a man. There is no evidence from the gospel accounts that Jesus’ disciples believed him to be God, and Thomas, upon seeing the resurrected Christ, was not birthing a new theology in a moment of surprise.

The context of the verse shows that its subject is the fact that Jesus was alive. Only three verses earlier, Thomas had ignored the eyewitness testimony of the other apostles when they told him they had seen the Lord. The resurrection of Christ was such a disputed doctrine that Thomas did not believe it (the other apostles had not either), and thus Jesus’ death would have caused Thomas to doubt that Jesus was who he said he was—the Messiah. Thomas believed Jesus was dead. Thus, he was shocked and astonished when he saw—and was confronted by— Jesus Himself. Thomas, upon being confronted by the living Christ, instantly believed in the resurrection, i.e., that God had raised the man Jesus from the dead, and, given the standard use of “God” in the culture as one with God’s authority, it certainly makes sense that Thomas would proclaim, “My Lord and my god.” There is no mention of the Trinity in the context, and there is no reason to believe that the disciples would have even been aware of such a doctrine. Thomas spoke what he would have known: that the man Jesus who he thought was dead was alive and had divine authority.

For other uses of theos applicable to this verse, see Hebrews 1:8.

2. Let us look at some reasons as to why one could also understand “My Lord” to be in reference to Jesus, and “My God” could be in reference to the Father, thus, this verse would not be declaring Jesus to be God in any sense.

First, it should be noted that the verse does not explicitly assign the title “God” to Jesus. It does not read, “You are my Lord and my God,” instead, Thomas simply says both of these titles and we must use context to determine what is being referred to by Thomas.

Secondly, all throughout the New Testament and the book of John, the overwhelming usage of “God” is in reference to the Father, and “Lord” is in reference to Jesus (John 1:18; 3:16; 6:68; 13:14; 17:3; 20:18; 21:12; Eph. 1:17; 1 Cor. 1:3; Acts 2:36), so why should we understand those phrases differently here? For example, even in this same context, God is distinguished from Jesus, and Jesus has a God, John 20:17 reads, “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not touch me, because I have not yet gone up to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am going up to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God.”‘” How would ‘God’ (Jesus) have a ‘God’ (the Father) if there is only one God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; John 17:3)? So, it would be rather strange for us to confuse God and Jesus here in John 20:28, making them one and the same.

Thirdly, believing that Thomas is calling Jesus God here is contrary to the rest of the apostles’ reactions to the resurrected Jesus. They consistently thought that the resurrection proved that God raised Jesus from the dead, not that the resurrection proved that Jesus was God (Acts 2:22-24, 36; 4:10; 5:30; 10:40; 13:30-37; Rom. 1:4; 10:9; Gal 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:21; etc.).

Fourthly, Jesus had not taught Thomas that he was God, so that would be a strange thing for Thomas to conclude. On the other hand, we do see that Jesus taught Thomas in John 14:9 that, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father,” and in John 10:32 and John 14:10 that the works Jesus does are the Father’s works, and in John 12:49-50 that Jesus’ words are from the Father. Thus, the idea that God the Father works through Jesus is clear from the book of John, and from what Jesus directly taught Thomas, but the idea that Jesus is God is not taught by Jesus or John anywhere.

Lastly, neither Jesus nor the author John capitalize on this quote by Thomas. If this really was a moment when one of the disciples finally recognized Jesus’ full divinity and his full equality with God, by calling him “my God,” why did neither Jesus nor John capitalize on this moment? If Jesus was a Trinitarian and understood that he was fully and equally God, and that believing that he is God is essential for salvation (as the vast majority of Trinitarians believe), in the only moment where one of his disciples seems to call him God, he fails to recognize it or comment on it, but instead commends Thomas for his faith saying, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Likewise, the author John brushes over this claim to Jesus’ deity as well saying, ” but these are written so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 20:31) He does not mention anything about Christ’s deity, or how John wrote these things ‘so that we would believe that Jesus is God.’ This absence of any comment by Jesus or John, in the only place in the life of Jesus where someone seems to directly attribute the title ‘God’ to Jesus, speaks volumes.

Buzzard, pp. 39-41,61 and 62,136 and 137

Dana, pp. 23-25

Farley, pp. 62-64

Morgridge, pp. 109 and 110 Norton, pp. 299-304

Snedeker, pp. 271 and 272, 426-430

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