Literary Analyses of Johannine Characters
by Randy Lopez


General Information
Appearances "Visit to Lazarus" (11:16)
"Last Supper Discourse" (14:5)
"Jesus and Thomas" (20:24-29)
also mentioned in reference in 21:2
Titles Given  "δίδυμος" (by the author "twin" 11:16; 20:24; 21:2)
Gender Male
Age unknown
Marital Status unknown
Place of Birth:  unknown
Place of Residence unknown
Relatives unknown
Group Affiliation Jesus' Disciples or The Twelve (11:16; 20:24; 21:2)

Narrator's Portrayal
The narrator makes limited comments concerning Thomas.  Thomas is one of the disciples of Jesus (11:16; 20:24; 21:2), and he is also referred (by the narrator alone) as Δίδυμος ("Didymos"), which is translated as "twin" (11:16; 20:24; 21:2).

The narrator makes more comments on Thomas in John 20.  After the resurrection of Jesus, he appears to his disciples, but Thomas is not present (20:24).  The author then notes that the other disciples give testimony to this appearance of Jesus (20:25).

Actions and Speech of Thomas
There has been much discussion concerning the character of Thomas as he reveals himself to the reader.  It is fitting for this character to reveal at least two "sides" (since "Twin" carries dualistic connotations).

As Jesus makes his intentions of going back to Judea known, his disciples warn him of the dangers of the travel--that "the Jews were just now trying to stone" Jesus (11:7,8).  Jesus again invites his disciples to go to see Lazarus in 11:15.  Thomas replies, "Let us also go, that we may die with him"

In this narrative, Thomas' speech makes it ambiguous to the readers with whom he wishes to die.  Does he call upon the rest of the disciples to die with Jesus or to die with Lazarus?

There is also the question of the tone of Thomas' voice.  It is difficult enough to realize the intention of a person through the tone of their voice when hearing it. How much more difficult is it to imagine the same tone without hearing or without a description?  In this verse, the intentions of Thomas are not very clear. Thomas may portray himself as an obedient and courageous character in the narrative--urging the disciples to come and follow Jesus. "He calls the others to go with Jesus even if it means dying with him" (Culpepper 124).  On the other hand, Thomas could have also meant this as a sarcastic remark.  Since his disciples already know that the Jews are after Jesus, Jesus still wants to walk around openly and wants his disciples to follow him (11:8)!

Thomas asks Jesus to tell him "the way" to where Jesus himself is going.  This is a good example of a misunderstanding between the Johannine Jesus and his audience--while Jesus speaks on a heavenly level, Thomas receives the message on an earthly or geographical level.  In this, Thomas misunderstands Jesus--thinking that Jesus was talking of an earthly way to an earthly destination.  Thomas understands Jesus in earthy definitions.  This is not to say that he rejects the notion of the Heavenly Jesus but that he misunderstands the divine for the human.

John 20:24-29 is the popular scene in which Thomas may have received the misused title "Doubting Thomas". The author sets up the appearance narrative so that one of the disciples is not present in the first appearance story (20:19-23).  Thomas is not present at the initial appearance of Jesus to the gathered disciples, but was given a report by the other disciples that Jesus had risen. He he did not believe the account and asked for proof of Jesus' existence beyond death (20:25).  His demands were met by the resurrected Jesus a week later; Jesus offers Thomas to touch his flesh and to feel the marks of the crucifixion (20:26-27).  The text does not state that Thomas does not touch Jesus as some movies have portrayed, but instead simply says "My Lord and my God!"(20:28).

This statement, could be seen in three ways:
                            1. As a confession to Jesus,
                            2. As an exclamation of fear, or
                            3. As an exclamation of happiness.
It is significant because the statement is found near the end of a book.  In most Greek plays, the climax is found near the end.  If this is so, then this statement or confession is of greater importance than other confessions found in the book. It can also be noted that Thomas made a reactionary statement in seeing a friend--thought to be dead--to be alive and well.  This interpretation cannot be disregarded as a legitimate comment on the statement for this shows a human reaction to seeing somebody alive when that person should be dead.  In this statement, Thomas presents a human reaction of fear or happiness that should not be immediately taken as a confession.

Other Character's Reactions to Thomas
Thomas is involved in a section of the "Last Supper Discourse" (14:5).  In this scene, Thomas poses a question to Jesus regarding the "way", "Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?" (14:5).  Jesus gives Thomas a straight-forward answer revealing himself as the that "way" which Thomas is asking.  Not only does Jesus provide Thomas and the readers an answer, but Jesus also elaborates and says that seeing Jesus is seeing the Father (14:7)

Thomas interacts with the resurrected Jesus in 20:29.  In this, the author gives Jesus the final words in this first conclusion (20:29).  The final message of Jesus may be directed to Thomas, the readers, or both.  For this analysis, if the statement by Jesus is addressed to Thomas, is it to denigrate him?  Maybe so, but this Gospel shows the importance of first hand accounts as the foundation of witnessing the Jesus' glory as well as believing Jesus.  Those who believe but do not see are blessed, for they believe what they have heard from those who have seen.  Jesus' intentions may not be to humiliate Thomas, but to restore him to a place of importance--as a witness to Jesus' ministry.

The Movement of Thomas within the Gospel
Thomas does not appear until near the end of "The Book of Signs"(11:16) and most of his appearances are found in "The Book of Glory" (14:5; 20:24-29; 21:2).

Thomas promotes Jesus in this Gospel.  If Thomas is not being sarcastic in 11:16, he is portrayed as an obedient disciple.  Thomas shows his weakness and asks for guidance in 14:5.  In chapter 20, he is described as one who at first does not believe but demands proof (20:25), is then offered proof (20:27), and finally believes because of seeing (20:29).

Through this, the author shows the development of the character of Thomas and his assent to belief--although it is limited. The actions and speech of Thomas shows himself as an earthly figure who comprehends the humanity and the logic of the world, but his downfall is his inability to transcend this earthly notion and to assend to a heavenly understanding."He is a model of the disciple who understands Jesus' flesh but not his glory" (Culpepper 123).  Taking into consideration that Thomas was willing to die with Jesus in chapter 11, the author shows that Thomas understands the meaning of the Jews looking for Jesus.  Thomas' misunderstanding in chapter 14 shows that he may understand the geographical way, but not the heavenly way.  In like manner, Thomas cannot understand that a man who has been dead for three days could be resurrected.  It is illogical for the earthly Thomas to believe in the manifestation of the dead, which is why Thomas asks for proof in 20:24-29.

Thomas is an earthly character who has the mental capacity to understand the humanity of Jesus but not the glory of the Christ.


Culpepper, R. Alan, "Characters: Thomas." Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. 123-124.
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