Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29 ESV)
This passage of Scripture is often appealed to by those who see Christian apologetics as irrelevant to evangelism, or even contrary to Scripture. On its face, it does seem to present an anti-evidence, anti-rational approach to the Christian faith: Jesus appears 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.
The first thing we should keep in mind is that all of the apostles were similarly situated to Thomas. Like Thomas, they also doubted others’ who testified that they saw 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 of Jesus until they personally saw Jesus in the flesh. If Jesus was condemning Thomas’ need for evidence, such condemnation also applied 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?
The second thing to note is that Thomas did not require just any kind of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, but empirical evidence. He would not accept the testimony of the women, the other apostles, or the two disciples’ who talked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. While one might understand how the other apostles originally doubted the resurrection of Jesus based on the single testimony of a handful of women, something more is to be said of the testimony of approximately 20 individuals that you are well acquainted with who report no less than three separate appearances of Jesus. Even with this abundance of testimonial evidence, Thomas would not believe. He wanted empirical evidence. Note carefully what Jesus did not say to Thomas. He did not say, “Blessed are those who believe apart from evidence,” but rather “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection apart from seeing Him in the flesh will be blessed. The last time I checked, 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! As such, those who become convinced that Jesus rose again by being provided with good reasons to trust the testimony of the Evangelists are truly blessed as Jesus said.
The narration John provides immediately after Jesus’ speech to Thomas reinforces the point that evidence is not opposed to faith. John saw evidence as an aid to faith. He went on to say:
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, ESV)
John makes it clear that he was not opposed to providing people with reasons to believe in Jesus. He included the miracle stories in his gospel precisely for the purpose of (“so that”) helping people come to faith in Jesus. They were signs that Jesus was who He said He was, and John expected that these signs would be an aid to his readers’ faith. John provided the testimony of those who experienced these events first-hand so that those who were not privileged to experience them first-hand could come to faith just as those who had empirical knowledge of the events. While not everyone would have the luxury of seeing what Thomas saw, all could still believe what Thomas believed.
While Jesus made it clear that empirical evidence is not necessary to believe in His resurrection, that is a far cry from declaring no evidence necessary. 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 veridical and reliable so that they can come to the same conclusion the apostles did, without experiencing what they experienced.
With the exception of the beloved disciple (Jn 20:1-9).
While the evidences John offered were not rational evidences, they were evidences nonetheless. It would be rather ironic for John to promote belief in Jesus through evidences, and tell us he is doing so right on the heels of Jesus’ statement to Thomas, if John understood Jesus’ statement to mean that evidences have no place in evangelism and the formation of faith.