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Lt. Colombo Learns a Lesson from "Doubting" Thomas

Updated: May 17

I wonder, how many of you have watched the TV series called Colombo? It’s named after Lieutenant Colombo, a brilliant detective who has a clever way of catching criminals and solving homicides. Colombo arrives on the crime scene in complete disarray, his hair an unkempt mop, his trench coat rumpled beyond repair, his stinky cigar wedged tightly between stubby fingers.


He gives the impression of being bumbling, inept, and completely harmless. He’s stupid, but stupid like a fox because the detective has a simple plan that accounts for his remarkable success. After poking round the crime scene, scratching his head, and muttering to himself, Lt. Colombo makes his trademark move. “I got a problem,” he says as he rubs his furrowed brow. “There’s something about this thing that bothers me.” He pauses a moment to ponder his predicament, then turns to his suspect. “You seem like a very intelligent person. Maybe you can clear this up for me. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”


His first question is innocent enough, and for the moment he seems satisfied with the answer. As he turns on his heel to leave, though, he stops himself mid-stride. Something has just occurred to him. He turns back to the scene, raises his index finger, and says, “Just one more thing.”


But “just one more thing” leads to another. And another. Soon they come relentlessly, question after question, to the point of distraction and, ultimately, annoyance. “I’m sorry,” says Colombo to his hassled suspect. “I know I’m making a pest of myself. It’s because I keep asking these questions. But I’ll tell ya,” he shrugs. “I can’t help myself. It’s a habit.”


Doubting Columbo?

Would anybody in his right mind dismiss Detective Colombo as Doubting Colombo? The gospel reading for the Second Sunday after Easter is about a disciple of Jesus who has been libeled down the centuries with the nickname ‘Doubting Thomas’. But is that fair? What if Thomas, like Colombo, were to shrug his shoulders, and if we accused him of asking too many questions, like Detective Colombo, say to us, “I can’t help myself. It’s a habit.”


Do you think we’re justified in calling Mr. Thomas Didymus a “doubter?” Or should we be calling him Detective Thomas?


Let’s first examine the case for Thomas being a doubter. By calling one of Jesus’ disciples “doubting Thomas” are we implying that the other disciples did not have doubts about the resurrection? Or were there other disciples who were slightly more skeptical than others?

Did other disciples doubt the resurrection?

Let’s examine the evidence. Mark’s gospel is the oldest gospel. Do the disciples in Mark’s gospel believe in the resurrection? The gospel of Mark ends with Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James and Salome, encountering the empty tomb; and after a man dressed in white tells them to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen “they ...flee from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they say nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mk 16:8). Here the gospel abruptly ends!

In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus appears to the eleven disciples, “they worshipped him, but some doubted” (28:17). In Luke’s gospel, Peter is puzzled (24:12); the Emmaus-bound pair fail to recognize Jesus (24:31,35). In the Upper Room, even after Jesus shows them his hands and his feet and invites them to “touch me, and see,” they “still disbelieved” (24:41).

In John’s gospel, Peter and the “other disciple” encounter the empty tomb, but only the other disciple believes (20:8). Later, Jesus presents them with evidence: he shows them his hands and his side and only “then the disciples were glad when they saw they Lord” (20:20).

All the disciples doubt the resurrection at some point. This isn’t a problem. This is expected. Dead men don’t rise. Jesus’ disciples were Jews, not Christians. The Jews did not expect one man to rise from the dead while the rest of the world went about as normal. If the other disciples believed only after seeing the evidence of Jesus’ pierced hands and side, isn’t it unfair for us to expect Thomas to believe without seeing? Why, then, do we find Thomas’ demand for evidence so objectionable?


No Objection

Jesus does not find Thomas’ demand for evidence objectionable. Jesus does not say to Thomas, “I’m angry with you,” or “I disapprove of you,” or “How dare you doubt my resurrection,” or “Why can’t you take my word for it?” He simply says to Thomas what he says to the other disciples: “Peace be with you.” Jesus invites Thomas to not only “see” but to “touch”, as well.


The other disciples do not find Thomas’ demand for evidence objectionable. When he asks for evidence, they do not shout him down. They don’t say to Thomas, “Can’t you take our word for it?” “Is our testimony not good enough for you?” They do not look down on him as someone with inferior faith. They do not exclude him. The gospel writer does not find Thomas’ demand for evidence objectionable. John does not insert a single editorial comment to that effect.


In fact, only after Jesus invites Thomas to rigorously test the evidence does he ask Thomas to have faith. In effect, Jesus is saying, “You want proof? Here is the evidence you are looking for. Are you satisfied? Now believe. Trust me.”


Thomas’ Great Confession

It was Thomas who made the greatest demands for the most robust evidence for the resurrection. Now it is Thomas who makes the greatest confession of faith in John’s gospel: “My Lord, and my God” (20:28). John’s gospel begins by telling us that the Word was God (1:1). Now Thomas becomes the first disciple to make this glorious affirmation bringing John’s gospel to its grand finale!


Thomas’ commitment to Christ is so passionate that he travels more than any other apostle to preach the gospel—he goes all the way to India—where he is martyred. But not before he baptizes six of the highest caste Hindu priestly families and establishes seven churches on the southern coast of India.


The apologist Gregory Koukl encourages Christians to use “the Colombo tactic” when sharing the gospel with unbelievers, agnostics, atheists and sceptics. “People don’t know what they mean much of the time,’ he writes. ‘Often they are merely repeating slogans. When you ask them to flesh out their concerns, opinion, or point of view with more precision, they are struck mute. They are forced to think, maybe for the first time, about exactly what they mean.”


The God of the Bible loves questions. Sadly, we are only too ready to give glib answers. Clarity is more important than agreement. Thomas sought clarity. May he be our inspiration and example.

Dr. Jules Gomes, (BA, BD, MTh, PhD), has a doctorate in biblical studies from the University of Cambridge. Currently a Vatican-accredited journalist based in Rome, he is the author of five books and several academic articles. Gomes lectured at Catholic and Protestant seminaries and universities and was canon theologian and artistic director at Liverpool Cathedral.

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