Together with a list of other passages where Jesus' deity is affirmed, I presented also the one from John 20 in a newsgroup discussion. All that John reports in this book culminates in the climax of his whole Gospel (chapter 20) with the confession of Thomas [as in many other passages Jesus affirms Thomas reaction, he gives no hint that this could be an overreaction; rather he says, that he would have liked to see that a bit earlier]:
27 Then he (Jesus) said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." [WHAT should he believe?] 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
To which some Muslims like to reply (which they learned from the Jehovah's witnesses, it is their line of argument):
This is an exclamation, not a statement of fact. Thomas is amazed, and he speaks like amazed people.
But this "understanding" is completely misguided.
I do agree with you that if this event had happened in the secular American cultural and sociological background such an explanantion would have a point.
But we have to read the Biblical statements on the background of the cultural and religious norms of THAT time.
I have grown up in a Christian family and one thing we learned growing up is to not use the name of God flippantly. It is okay to say "God" if you talk to him in prayer or about him to others. You are allowed to say "God" if you mean "God". And the same holds true for the name "Jesus".
In my family nobody uses "My God!" [or the German equivalent"] for an exlamation or any expression of amazement.
In Germany just as in the US many people DO use the name of God or Jesus MORE OFTEN as a curse word or in a statement of astonishment (as you indicate above) than in the true meaning.
But this does not mean this is right and acceptable for CHRISTIANS to do so. And for devout believers among the JEWS this issue is even stricter than for Christians. Just have a look at the Jewish newsgroup and see how many orthodox Jews write "G-d" and "L-rd" instead of "God" and "Lord" because the misuse of the name of God is so serious an offense that even in the place where it would be correct use they rather substitute it with only a "hint" of the name.
Why is that? It is based on one of the Ten Commandments, the core of God's law for his people:
You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. Exodus 20:7
"My God!" is not in my vocabulary for astonishment. And even in the greatest surprise you will never hear that from me. Since I don't use it for small surprises that expression doesn't come out in big ones either, because in the times you are caught off guard then you say what is "in you", i.e. according to your habits. But since I am not in the habit of it, that will never come out under "stress" either.
The disciples of Jesus of Jesus were devout Jewish believers, I don't think anybody would doubt that - and even the Qur'an calls them submitters to God. And submitting to God means to submit to his commands. Exodus 20:7 is one of the central ones.
I don't contend with the fact that Thomas was surprised, but that does not explain his statement. And after Thomas (astonished) CONFESSION of Jesus as Lord and God, Jesus does not warn him of abuse God's name, but confirms him by saying that NOW he is believing. Let me quote from my original article again for context sake:
And the last passage from John 20, though there are quite a number of more passages which prove the same, but all that John reports culminates in the climax of his whole Gospel (chapter 20) with the confession of Thomas [again Jesus affirms Thomas reaction, he gives no hint that this could be an overreaction; rather he says, that he would have liked to see that a bit earlier]:
27 Then he (Jesus) said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." [WHAT should he believe?] 28 Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" [THIS is the content of faith Jesus has been looking for all this time!] 29 Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." [NOW Jesus says that "Thomas is believing"]
I hope this helps to put this statement in John's Gospel in perspective. The whole Gospel is flowing towards this point of confession. It is the climax of all the 21 chapters. Any detailed study of the Gospel will reveal that.
Excurse: For the same reason another argument often brought doesn't work either.
A former Jewish believer responded to this "explanation":
With this confession, the Gospel account is at the point where John was leading his readers, the point John wanted them all to understand. Finally, Thomas, the one with the MOST doubts, [so that he came down in history as Thomas, the doubter] comes out with the confession / realization of the true nature of Jesus.
Jesus is the Lord and God. What follows is just a short epilog (and a few afterthoughts on what happened later). The case is proven, there is not much more to say.
30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written SO THAT you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (=Messiah), THE Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Having (eternal) LIFE is something that depends on this belief that Jesus is the Son of God. And in this whole Gospel, this means that He IS God the Son, God Himself, Lord and God, the Truth, the Way and the Life and there will be no other way to God than faith in Him. NOBODY will come to (God,) the Father, except through Jesus (God, the Son) (John 14:6).
It is very unfortunate that Islam has conditioned Muslims to think "God had sex with Mary" every time they hear/read "Son of God". This is utterly blashpemous a thought for every Christian too.
The title "Word of God" which is a Biblical one as well as a Qur'anic one might be much better to express basically the same meaning.
As the son is the one most like his father among all human beings, [well, among men not always, there are some sons very unlike their fathers but we have to understand it as it is meant and all images have their limitations] and as to their nature they are equal, they are both human, so also is "my word" expression of myself and others will for a good part know me by how express myself through my words. That is part of what "Jesus is the Word of God" means. We only can know God by knowing Jesus his Word, or Jesus his Son. But since the nature of me and the nature of my word is not the same - I have body, soul and spirit while "my words" don't have any of these in the same way, so the other "image" of the "Son" is important to make clear that Jesus is deity by nature. Just as father and son of men share equally in their human nature, so God, Father and Son share equally in their divine nature. And all that without any sex involved. Jesus was "Son" from eternity past, without beginning - that is what the Bible teaches. He was "the son" long before Mary was even created.
The Trinity is discussed in more detail elsewhere. But some very sketchy remarks, since we are already on the "misconceptions". When Christians say "Jesus is God", Muslims always seem to think that we say "Jesus is anOTHER god" which is not at all what we say. The Qur'an always speaks out against "joining OTHERS as gods with Allah" and I am completely in agreement that that is wrong. But we do not join any other with God. We believe that Jesus is the SAME one true God.
Just as when we say "I am expressing MYSELF by my words" and could say that means I am "(in)verbalizing" myself for you so that we can have a relationship and communicate, so we believe that God became man in Jesus, i.e. God was "incarnating" himself in Jesus. Jesus is NOT anOTHER god. He is the true one and only creator God, who came near so that we can have a genuine relationship with him.
I hope these remarks help at least some of you to understand the Christian "terminology" a bit better.
There is a big difference between knowing ABOUT somebody and KNOWING somebody. I can read many of your postings here on the newsgroup but I am in no illusion that I therefore "know you". I only know a little bit about you. I hope you won't pretend either to "know" me just because you have read a few of my articles. Should we have the privilege to have a phone conversation some time, you may know a bit more about me, but it is still a far cry from knowing me by meeting me personally and spend a week with me.
That is what is expressed also in the Bible in the first verses of the letter to the Hebrews:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.... Hebrews 1:1-3
[God doesn't have 'hands', "right hand" = position of power and authority". And: he sat down (because this is his rightful place) he doesn't even have to be invited to do so.]
Bible Commentary Index
Answering Islam Home Page