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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

John 20



Verse 1

John 20:1. τηι δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων: “And on the first day of the week”. Mk. (Mark 16:2) and Lk. (Luke 24:1) have the same expression. Mt. (Matthew 28:1) has ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων. [In the suspected ninth verse of Mark 16 πρώτῃ appears instead of μιᾷ.]— ΄αρία ΄αγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται, Mary of Magdala, now Mejdel, a fishing village north of Tiberias; she is further described in Mark 16:9 as παρʼ ἧς ἐκβεβλήκει ἑπτὰ δαιμόνια (cf. Luke 8:2), which lends significance both to her being at the tomb and to her being the first to see the Lord. She alone of the three women present is here named, because she alone is required in John’s account. The time is more exactly described as πρωΐ, σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης. Mk. (Mark 16:2) has λίαν πρωΐ, but adds ἀνατείλαντος τοῦ ἡλίου, apparently having chiefly in view, not the first arrival of the women, but the appearance of Jesus to Mary. Luke’s ὄρθρου βαθέος agrees with John’s expression. Phrynichus defines ὄρθρος as the time before the day began while a lamp was still needed. [Cf. Plato’s Crito at the beginning, and Roger’s note on Aristoph., Wasps, 215.] The darkness is noticed by John to account for her seeing nothing of what Peter and John afterwards saw. She could not, however, fail to see τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου; the slab closing the sepulchre had been removed. Seeing this she naturally concluded that the tomb had been violated, possibly that the authorities for purposes of their own had removed the body.

Verses 1-10

John 20:1-10. The empty tomb.

Verse 2

John 20:2. τρέχει οὖναὐτόν. She therefore runs, disregarding unseemliness, and comes to those who would be most interested, and without preface, breathless and anxious, exclaims: ἦραν … “they have removed the Lord from the tomb, and we know not where they have laid Him”. Evidently she had no idea that a resurrection had taken place. The plural οἴδαμεν may naturally be accepted as confirming Mark’s account that she was not alone.

Verse 3

John 20:3. At once the two men ἐξῆλθενκαὶ ἤρχοντο, singular and plural as frequently, aorist and imperfect, the one referring to the passing beyond the city wall, the other to the whole course from the house to the tomb.

Verse 4

John 20:4. ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ, “and the two ran together”: equally eager; but ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμε ταχίον τοῦ πέτρου, “the other disciple ran on before more quickly than Peter”; probably John was the younger man. [Lampe suggests two other reasons: either Peter’s steps were slower “ob conscientiam culpae,” or “forte via Joanni magis nota erat”.] Consequently John ἦλθε πρῶτος … “came first to the tomb”.

Verse 5

John 20:5. καὶ παρακύψας … The R.V(94) renders παρακύψας by “stooping and looking in,” A.V(95) has merely “stooping down”; the Vulgate “cum se inclinasset,” Weizsäcker “beugte sich vor”. Field (Otium Norvic. on Luke 24:12) prefers “looking in,” although, he says, “peep in” would more accurately define the word παρακύπτειν. He quotes Casaubon’s opinion that the word implies “protensionem colli cum modica corporis incurvatione”. See also Kypke on Luke 24:12, and Lid. and Scott Lex. ὀθόνια are the strips of linen used for swathing the dead; the cerecloths. ὀθόνη is frequent in Homer (Il., 3, 141; 18, 595) to denote the fine material of women’s dress; in Lucian and Herodian of sails; in Acts 10:11 of a sheet. σινδών is the word used by Luke (Luke 23:53); so Herodotus, ii. 86. οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν, “he did not however enter,” withheld by dread of pollution, according to Wetstein; by terror, according to Meyer. It is enough to suppose that it did not occur to John to enter the tomb, or that he was withheld by a feeling of reverence or delicacy.

Verse 6

John 20:6. Peter is not so withheld. He enters καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνιατόπον. θεωρεῖ is probably used here in its stricter sense of seeing so as to draw conclusions.

Verse 7

John 20:7. What he saw was significant; the linen wrappings lying, and the napkin which had been on His head not lying with the linen cloths, but separately folded up in a place by itself. The first circumstance was evidence that the body had not been hastily snatched away for burial elsewhere. Had the authorities or any one else taken the body, they would have taken it as it was. The second circumstance gave them even stronger proof that there had been no hurry. The napkin was neatly folded and laid “into one place,” the linens being in another. They felt in the tomb as if they were in a chamber where one had divested himself of one set of garments to assume another. [Euthymius is here interesting and realistic.] σουδάριον, sudarium, from sudo, I sweat.

Verse 8

John 20:8. On Peter reporting what he saw τότε οὖνἐπίστευσεν. “then entered accordingly the other disciple also, who had first arrived at the tomb, and he saw and believed”. Standing and gazing at the folded napkin, John saw the truth. Jesus has Himself risen, and disencumbered Himself of these wrappings. Cf. John 11:44. It was enough for John; ἐπίστευσεν. He visited no other tomb; he questioned no one.

Verse 9

John 20:9. The emptied and orderly grave convinced him, οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισανἀναστῆναι; it was not an expectation founded on scripture which prompted belief in the resurrection; but only those matter-of-fact observations, the empty grave and the folded napkin.

Verse 10

John 20:10. Satisfied in their own minds ἀπῆλθον οὖνοἱ μαθηταί. πρὸς ἐαυτούς or αὐτούς or αὑτούς = home; “chez eux,” Segond’s French version; εἰς τὰ ἴδια, modern Greek. Kypke gives examples of a phrase which he says is “trita profanis”.

Verse 11

John 20:11. ΄αρία δὲ εἱστήκειἔξω. Hitherto John has told us simply what he himself saw: now he reports what Mary told him, see John 20:18. She had come to the tomb after the men, but could not share in their belief. She remained outside the tomb helplessly and hopelessly weeping. She herself had told the disciples that the tomb was empty, and she had seen them come out of it; but again παρέκυψεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον “she peered into the tomb”; an inimitably natural touch. She could not believe her Lord was gone. καὶ θεωρεῖἰησοῦ. This, says Holtzmann, is a mere reminiscence of Luke 24:4. But even the description of the angels differs. They were “seated one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus lay”; sitting, says Bengel, “quasi opera quapiam perfunctos, et exspectantes aliquem, quem docerent”. Lampe has little help to give here; and Lücke is justified in saying that neither the believing nor the critical inquirer can lift the veil that hangs over this appearance of angels. In Mary’s case it was wholly without result; for no sooner does she answer the angels’ question than she turns away, probably hearing a footstep behind her.

Verses 11-18

John 20:11-18.—Jesus reveals Himself to Mary.

Verse 14

John 20:14. ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω … “And she sees Jesus standing and did not know that it was Jesus”; not merely because her eyes were dim with tears, but because He was altered in appearance; as Mark (Mark 16:12) says, ἐν ἑτέρᾳ μορφῇ. So little was her ultimate recognition of Jesus the result of her expectation or her own fancy embodied.

Verse 15

John 20:15. λέγειζητεῖς; That she was searching for some one she had lost was obvious from her tears and demeanour. But not even the voice of Jesus sounds familiar. ἐκείνηἀρῶ. She supposed Him to be the gardener (or garden-keeper) not because He had on the gardener’s clothes—for probably He wore merely the short drawers in which He had been crucified (see Hug and Lücke)—nor because He held the spade as represented in some pictures, but because no one else was likely to be there at that early hour and question her as to her reason for being there. Her answer shows that she thought it possible that it had been found inconvenient to have the body of Jesus in that tomb and that it had been removed to some other place of sepulture. In this case she will gladly relieve them of the encumbrance. It is none to her.

Verse 16

John 20:16. λέγειδιδάσκαλε. His uttering her name, ΄αριάμ, revealed that He was a friend who knew her; and there was also that in the tone which made her instantly turn fully round to search Him with her gaze. Surprise, recognition, relief, joy, utter themselves in her exclamation, ῥαββουνί, which Buxtorf renders “Domine mi”; but probably the pronominal suffix had ceased to have significance, as in “Monsieur,” etc. Lampe quotes the saying; “Majus est Rabbi quam Rabh, et majus est Rabban quam Rabbi,” cf. Mark 10:51. With the exclamation Mary made a forward movement as if to embrace Him. But this is forbidden.

Verse 17

John 20:17. ΄ή μου ἅπτου, “noli me tangere,” not because it was indecorous (Luke 7:38); nor because she wished to assure herself by touch that the appearance was real, a test which He did not prevent His disciples from applying; nor because her embrace would disturb the process of glorification through which His body was passing; nor, following Kypke’s note, can we suppose that Jesus forbids Mary to worship Him [although K. proves that ἅπτεσθαι is used of that clinging to the knees or feet which was adopted by suppliants], because He accepts Thomas’ worship even before His ascension; but, as He Himself says, οὔπω γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου, “for I have not yet ascended to my Father,” implying that this was not His permanent return to visible fellowship with His disciples. Mary, by her eagerness to seize and hold Him, showed that she considered that the μικρόν, the “little time,” of John 16:16, was past, and that now He had returned to be for ever with them. Jesus checks her with the assurance that much had yet to happen before that. His disciples must at once be disabused of that misapprehension. Therefore, πορεύουὑμῶν, “Go to my brothers [ ἀδελφούς μου, here for the first time; in anticipation of the latter part of the sentence, cf. Mark 3:35] and tell them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and my God and your God”. He thus forms a relationship which bound Him to them more closely than His bodily presence. His place by right is with God. But His love binds Him as certainly to His people on earth as His rights carry Him to God. The form of the expression is dictated by His desire to give them assurance. They had no doubt God was His God and Father. He teaches them that, if so, He is their God and Father. ἔρχεταιαὐτῇ, Mary carries forthwith the Lord’s message to the disciples, cf. Mark 16:10; Matthew 28:10; Luke 24:10.

Verse 19

John 20:19. The time of the manifestation is defined, it was τῇ ἡμέρᾳσαββάτων “on that day, the first of the week,” and during the evening, οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας, which agrees with Luke’s account, from which we learn that when Jesus and the two disciples reached Emmaus, two hours from Jerusalem, the day was declining. The evening was chosen, probably because then the disciples could be found together. The circumstance that the doors were shut seemed to John significant regarding the properties of the risen body of Jesus. τῶν θυρῶν κεκλε μένων, “the doors having been shut,” i.e., securely fastened so that no one could enter, because the precaution was taken διὰ τὸν φόβ ν τῶν ἰουδαίων. So soon had the disciples begun to experience the risks they ran by being associated with Jesus. Calvin supposes Jesus opened the doors miraculously; but that is no suggested in the words. Rather it is indicated that His glorified body was not subject to the conditions of the natural, earthly body, but passed where it would. Suddenly ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον (cf. Luke 24:36). “Phrasis notat se in publico omnium conspectu sistere.” Kypke. Not only as the ordinary salutation, but to calm their perturbation at this sudden apparition (cf. Luke 24:37), He greets them with εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, and to assure them of His identity ἔδειξεναὐτοῦ.

Verses 19-29

John 20:19-29. Manifestations of the risen Lord to the disciples, first without Thomas, then with Thomas.

Verse 20

John 20:20. His body, therefore, however changed in its substance, retained its characteristic marks. The fear of the disciples was replaced by joy, ἐχάρησανκύριον. In this joy the promise of John 16:22 is fulfilled (Weiss).

Verse 21

John 20:21. When they recognised Him and composed themselves, He naturally repeated His greeting, εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, but now adds, καθὼςὑμᾶς. “As the Father hath sent me, so send I you.” In these words (cf. John 17:18) He gives them their commission as His representatives. And in confirmation of it, (John 20:22) τοῦτο εἰπὼνἅγιον. “He breathed on them,” ἐνεφύσησε; the same word is used in Genesis 2:7 to describe the distinction between Adam’s “living soul,” breathed into him by God, and the life principle of the other animals. The breathing upon them was meant to convey the impression that His own very Spirit was imparted to them.

Verse 23

John 20:23. The authorisation of the Apostles is completed in the words: ἄν τινωνκεκράτηνται. “Whosesoever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven to them: whosesoever ye retain, they are retained.” The meaning of κεκράτηνται is determined by the opposed ἀφέωνται [the better reading]. The announcement is unexpected. Yet if they were to represent Him, they must be empowered to continue a function which He constantly exercised and set in the forefront of His ministry. They must be able in His name to pronounce forgiveness, and to threaten doom. This indeed formed the main substance of their ministry, and it was by receiving His Spirit they were fitted for it. The burden was laid upon them of determining who should be forgiven, and who held by their sin. Cf. Acts 3:26; Acts 5:4.

Verse 24

John 20:24. θωμᾶς δὲἰησοῦς. θωμᾶς [ תָּאוֹם or תּאֹם a twin, from תָּאַם to be double; of which δίδυμος from δύο is the Greek equivalent]. εἷς ἐκ τῶν δώδεκα “one of the twelve,” the familiar designation still used of the eleven, οὐκ ἦν … “was not with them when Jesus came,” why, we do not know.

Verse 25

John 20:25. The rest accordingly, when first they met him, possibly the same evening, said, ἑωράκαμεν τὸν κύριον; which he heard with incredulity, not because he could mistrust them, but because he concluded they had been the victims of some hallucination. Nothing would satisfy him but the testimony of his own senses: ἐὰν μὴ ἴδωπιστεύσω. The test proposed by Thomas shows that he had witnessed the crucifixion and that the death and its circumstances had deeply impressed him. To him resurrection seemed a dream. But he still associated with those who believed in it.

Verse 26

John 20:26. καὶ μεθʼ ἡμέραςαὐτῶν. μεθʼ ἡμέρας ὀκτὼ πάλιν. Probably he had been with them every day during the interval, but as Bengel remarks, “interjectis diebus nulla fuerat apparitio”. On the first day of the second week the disciples were “again,” as on the previous Sunday, “within” in the same convenient place of meeting, and now Thomas is with them. As on the previous occasion (John 20:19), the doors were shut and Jesus suddenly appeared among them and greeted them with the customary salutation.

Verse 27

John 20:27. εἶτα λέγειπιστός. He does not need to be informed of Thomas’ incredulity; although it is quite possible that, as Lücke supposes, the others had mentioned it to Him. Still, this is not in the text. Cf. Weiss, who also quotes Bengel’s characteristic note: “Si Pharisaeus ita dixisset Nisi videro, etc., nil impetrasset; sed discipulo pridem probato nil non datur,”. Weiss supposes the hands were seen ( ἴδε), the side only touched under the clothes. Some suppose that as the feet are not mentioned in this passage, they had not been nailed but only bound to the cross. See Lücke’s interesting note. καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος ἀλλὰ πιστός, “Incredulitas aliquid habet de voluntario”.

Verse 28

John 20:28. Grotius, following Tertullian, Ambrose, Cyril and others, is of opinion that Thomas availed himself of the offered test: surely it is psychologically more probable that the test he had insisted on as alone sufficient is now repudiated, and that he at once exclaims, κύριός μου καὶ θεός μου. His faith returns with a rebound and utters itself in a confession in which the gospel culminates. The words are not a mere exclamation of surprise. That is forbidden by εἶπεν αὐτῷ; they mean “Thou art my Lord and my God”. The repeated pronoun lends emphasis. In Pliny’s letter to Trajan (112 A.D.) he describes the Christians as singing hymns to Christ as God. Our Lord does not reject Thomas’ confession; but (John 20:29) reminds him that there is a higher faith than that which springs from visual evidence: ὅτι ἑώρακάς μεκαὶ πιστεύσαντες. Jesus would have been better pleased with a faith which did not require the evidence of sense: a faith founded on the perception that God was in Christ, and therefore He could not die; a faith in His Messiahship which argued that He must live to carry on the work of His Kingdom. The saying is cited as another instance of the care with which the various origins and kinds of faith are distinguished in this gospel.

Verse 30

John 20:30. πολλὰ μὲν οὖντούτῳ. That this was the original or intended conclusion of the gospel is shown by the use of the words “in this book,” which indicate that the writer was now looking back on it as a whole (Holtzmann). Perhaps τούτῳ is emphatic, contrasted with the Synoptic gospels in which so many other signs were recorded. The expression πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλα is necessarily of frequent occurrence and is illustrated by Kypke. Beza says these particles in the usage of John “proprie conclusionibus adhibentur”. “Many other signs therefore” (R.V(96)) is not an improvement on A.V(97) “And many other signs truly.” “Many other signs indeed did Jesus” is sufficient. Why ἐνώπιον τῶν μαθητῶν? Probably because they are viewed as the cause of faith. ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται, “but these have been written,” these, viz., which have been included in this book, ἵνααὐτοῦ, with an object, and this object has determined their selection: “that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. The use of the 2nd pers. suggests that the writer had in view some special class. But his object was of universal significance. See the Introduction.

Verse 30-31

John 20:30-31. First conclusion of the gospel


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on John 20:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.

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