When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Translation: Therefore, being evening of that day, the first of sabbath, the doors having been shut where the disciples were because of the fear of the Judeans, Jesus came and stood in the midst and he said to them, "Peace to you." And when he said this, he showed to them the hands and the side. Then, the disciples rejoiced, seeing the Lord. Then, Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you. Just as the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed and said to them, "Receive the holy spirit. If you release the sins of any, they have been released to them, and if you might hold (the sins) of any, they have been held."
Background and situation: The scene is quickly set. It is the evening of that first Easter, and the doors "had been shut" by the disciples because of their fear of the Judeans. The fear of the Judeans is not unreasonable, of course, considering that Jesus had just been crushed by Judean forces. (To recap from other posts on the fourth gospel, the fourth gospel is basically an argument between a Galilean and Judean worldview. The Judean worldview, in a nutshell, is the view from the top, i.e. the Temple leadership and their allies, the ruling families of Jerusalem, and, in turn, their allies, the Romans. The Judean position is marked by division and barriers--rich vs. poor, Jew vs. Samaritan, insider vs. outsider.)
Peace established on the basis of his wounds: In spite of the locked doors, Jesus "came and stood into the middle" and said "peace to you." Previously, Jesus had spoken of "peace" in 14: 27 and 16: 33--both times as an antidote to fear.
"My peace I leave with you," Jesus says in 14: 27. Therefore, do not let your hearts be afraid. In 16:33, Jesus says that he has said "these things" to the disciples so that they may have peace. Therefore, "take courage; I have conquered the world."
Jesus displays his wounds to the disciples. This establishes continuity between the historical person Jesus and the resurrected Jesus. The wounds are now healed and glorified.
The reference to Jesus' hands reminds readers that God "had given all things into his hands" (3: 35). The disciples are safe. The reference to his side refers to the spear of the Roman soldier after the death of Jesus, from which had flowed both blood and water.
The water reminds us of the "living water" spoken of in the dialog with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter four. Moreover, "blood and water" are reminiscent of birth. It is the "blood and water" flowing from the side of Jesus that gives birth to the New Community.
The disciples recognize Jesus on the basis of his wounds and rejoice at "seeing the Lord." This is reminiscent of the witness of Mary Magdalene who had said, "I have seen the Lord."
Jesus says again, "Peace to you." The two statements of peace frame the action of Jesus in showing his hands and side. It is on this basis, his wounds, that peace is won.
"He breathed on them": Jesus shifts immediately to mission--"As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then, "he breathed on them."
The disciples are given power from the divine breath. The Greek word translated as "breathed" is emphusao. It is the same word the Septuagint uses to translate Genesis 2: 7: "And the Lord God...breathed into (Adam's) nostrils the breath of life." Moreover, the fourth gospel's use of emphusao is the only use of this word in the entire New Testament.
Clearly, the author of the fourth gospel is equating the breath of Jesus with the breath of God. Where the Lord God breathed life into a human being, the Lord Jesus breathes life into his church. This is yet another of the fourth gospel's many references to the book of Genesis.
"If you release the sins of any, they are released," says Jesus, and "if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." This is not a parallel for a similar saying in Matthew. There is nothing here about eternal "binding and loosing." Rather, the New Community is to be characterized by the forgiveness of sins. Conversely, if sins are not forgiven, they are "retained" within the community, thereby threatening the community's life.
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’
Translation: But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. Then, the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "If I do not see on his hands the mark of the nails and throw my finger into the place of the nails and I throw my hand into his side, I will surely not trust."
Thomas fails to show up for church, promptly blows it: Thomas is identified as "one of the twelve," which is not necessarily a compliment in the fourth gospel. In fact, this member of "the twelve" was absent in 20:19-23. Thomas wasn't present at the birth of the New Community. (Does absence indicate that the apostles were already starting to go their different ways?)
The disciples proclaim to Thomas, "We have seen the Lord." This is the third proclamation of seeing the Lord in the fourth gospel's Easter narrative. This is not good enough for Thomas, who not only wants to "see" but also to "touch" the places where Jesus had been wounded.
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’
Translation: And after eight days, again his disciples were inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus is coming, the doors having been shut, and he stood in the midst and said, "Peace to you." Then he said to Thomas, "Bring your finger here and see my hands. And bring your hand and throw into my side, and do not be untrusting, but trust." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God." Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen me, you have trusted? Blessed (are) those who have not seen and have trusted."
The "new creation" appears again: "A week later" is a tame--and wrong--translation of meth hemeras okto. It should be "after eight days." This is yet another reference to a Genesis theme. The Lord God created the universe in seven days. The resurrection of Jesus, the "new creation," is associated with the eighth day.
Where earlier Jesus "came and stood in their midst," this time the text reads, literally, "is coming Jesus, the doors having been locked, and stood in the middle." The coming of Jesus is, this time, a present participle, meaning that Jesus is always present with his community.
Jesus announces "peace" again, and focuses immediately on Thomas. "Put your finger here and see my hands," says Jesus. Jesus does not say to touch his hands, but to see them. (To "see"--to "get it"--is a synonym for "faith" in the fourth gospel.)
Then Jesus says, "Reach out your hand and throw it into my side." (The word is bale, "to throw.") In essence, Jesus is saying, as the old hymn puts it, "Cast all your cares upon me." The over-all sense of the dialog is Jesus' intention to bring Thomas to faith. As Mary Magdalene and the disciples have seen, Jesus also wants Thomas to "see" his hands and, moreover, throw himself into the very wound which gave birth to the church.
Thomas responds, "My Lord and my God." Domitian, the Roman Emperor at the time of the writing of the fourth gospel, was known as dominus et deus noster, "our lord and god." Thomas' confession of Jesus as "My Lord and My God" is both a statement of faith in Jesus and a polemic against the Emperor.
Jesus blesses "those who have not seen," which, at the time of the writing of the fourth gospel, would have included many in the church. By AD 90, most of the people in the Johannine community would not have actually seen the wounds of Jesus.
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Translation: Therefore, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these are written so that you might trust that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that, trusting, you might have life in his name.
Jesus had done seven "signs" prior to his crucifixion. Since the number seven is the number of completion and wholeness, these seven "signs" give us a complete picture of Jesus. "Other signs" mean that even this complete view cannot fully express the meaning of Jesus. The narrator even indicates that Jesus' appearance to Thomas could also be considered a "sign."
The stated purpose of writing about these signs is so that "you" (plural, think "you-all") might come to "faith." The word is pisteuein, which is a verb, and should be translated as "faith". Using "faith" as a verb sounds odd in English so the Greek pisteuein is usually rendered--inaccurately--as "believe."
"Believe" is a cognitive function, but "faith" is more an orientation of a person's entire being. "Trust" captures the sense of pisteuein much better than does "believe."
Jesus is the "Christ" and the "son of God." Of all the titles for Jesus already mentioned in the fourth gospel, and there have been a good many, only two titles are specifically affirmed here.
As has been true all through the fourth gospel, trusting in Jesus is equated with life--zoe. In Greek, zoe refers not just to a living organism, but the very basis of all life. Trust in Jesus puts one in intimate connection with the source of life itself.
Image: "Breath" window, Church of the Holy Spirit (Episcopal), Hunterdon County, New Jersey.