At Fish Coin Press, we work with a whole community of artists to visually represent the Bible. Our team considers carefully the style of each artist in relation to the literary style of a Biblical text, and seeks to match artist to text in an illuminating manner. But it is also true that every Biblical text has a range of meaning, the valences of which can be brought out in different ways by different artists. And so one of the really fun things we get to do, though not often, is to publish two images by separate artists about the same text.
A great example of this is the story of "Doubting Thomas," from John 20:24-29. In this story, Thomas is not present when the resurrected Jesus first appears to the disciples, and he insists that he will not believe unless he sees and touches the wounds of Jesus. So strong is Thomas' statement that the more accurate way of describing this story would be "Disbelieving Thomas." But then the following week, Jesus appears to the disciples again, and this time he invites Thomas to put his finger in his wounds.
How this scene should be depicted has been in the church a source of perpetual discussion and debate, probably because it feels, on the one hand, intimate and private, but on the other hand immensely important to the public witness of the church. The famous reformer Martin Luther, for example, accepted the continued existence of the wounds, but preferred that they not appear hideous:
"I WILL NOT ARGUE WHETHER CHRIST ALWAYS AFTER HIS RESURRECTION RETAINED THE WOUNDS AND PRINTS OF THE NAILS; YET I ARGUE THEY DID NOT APPEAR HIDEOUS, AS OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT, BUT FRESH AND COMFORTING. AND WHETHER THEY WERE STILL FRESH, OPEN AND RED AS ARTISTS PAINT THEM, I WILL LEAVE FOR OTHERS TO DECIDE."
— Martin Luther, Sermon on John 20
In his illustration of the scene, Aaron Kapper captures the moment where Thomas quite literally puts his finger through the wounds of Jesus.
Like Caravaggio's famous painting of Thomas touching Jesus' side, the emphasis here is on the physicality of Jesus and his wounds, but perhaps even more than in Caravaggio, we also see a transformation happening in Thomas. In Kapper's image, Thomas has a tear in his eye, and we can feel the emotional change that will soon lead Thomas to proclaim, "My Lord and My God." Featured in BEHOLD: The Resurrection and the Life, the image is on a card called "Disbelieve," which plays upon both Thomas' declared disbelief, but also the sense of disbelief he must have felt when feeling Christ's wounds.
Our second image of "Doubting Thomas" is in Come See A Man, Stephen Procopio's illustrated gospel of John.
Here the surrealism is more dramatic, as we see not Thomas' finger, but Thomas' head, emerging from Jesus' wounded hand. But the hand itself is already strange, composed of the vines and flowers of new life. Thus, our attention is drawn not only to the strangeness of Jesus' wounds, but also to the strangeness of his resurrected body, which has a new and different kind of life, never to die again. In a sense, Thomas is himself discovering the new contours of Christ, his head moving from the wound to the hand, from the sign of suffering to the sign of glory, from his persecuted rabbi to his Lord and God.
BEHOLD are trading cards designed for contemplative Bible study.
Come See a Man is our illustrated paperback edition of the Gospel of John. Read the unabridged text alongside over 30 illustrations by Stephen Procopio.