The Empty Tomb according to John: An Exegetical Analysis of John 20:1-10

1 Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον καὶ βλέπει τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου. 2 τρέχει οὖν καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· ἦραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου καὶ οὐκ οἴδαμεν ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 3 Ἐξῆλθεν οὖν ὁ Πέτρος καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς καὶ ἤρχοντο εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον. 4 ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ· καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμεν τάχιον τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 5 καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια, οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν. 6 ἔρχεται οὖν καὶ Σίμων Πέτρος ἀκολουθῶν αὐτῷ καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, 7 καὶ τὸ σουδάριον, ὃ ἦν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ, οὐ μετὰ τῶν ὀθονίων κείμενον ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον. 8 τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς ὁ ἐλθὼν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν· 9 οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφὴν ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι. 10 ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς αὐτοὺς οἱ μαθηταί.

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

resurection“The act of the resurrection itself, like every new process of production, is enveloped in obscurity. The writers of the New Testament make mention only of what they themselves saw when the sepulchre was already empty.”[1] And even in the description of the empty tomb, there are differences among the Evangelists. John, in his narration of the resurrection events, differs greatly from the Synoptics. The Johannine narrative sequence at the empty tomb is a combination of two different narratives as seen in the synoptic Gospels, making it one of the most graphic and interesting narratives connected with the resurrection of Jesus. They include the visit to the empty tomb by the women (or woman) and the visit to the empty tomb by the disciples (Peter or Peter and the Beloved Disciples). Probably, John made use of the Synoptic Gospels or traditions along with his own particular sources in this narration. Unlike other gospels which include a group of women as the first visitors to empty tomb, John names only Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:1-2, 11-18; cf. Mk 16:1-8; Mt 27:1-8; Lk 24:1-11, 22-23).  At the same time, the episode of the visit to the tomb by Peter (Jn 20:3-10; cf. Lk 24:12,24) is interpolated in this narration. John also includes the Beloved Disciple in this narration. The following is a short exegetical study of John 20:1-10. This section narrates the visit of the disciples to the tomb proceeded by an apparent mention of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene who had visited the tomb early in the morning.

1. De-limitation of the Text

If one considers the usual time and place as the parameters of de-limiting a text, Jn 20:1-18 must be considered as a single unit, because it happens early on the first day of the week. The starting of the unit is clear from its mentioning of the time as early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark – Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων … πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης (Jn 20:1). Jn 20:19 states a change in the time of the narrative as the evening of that day – Οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων (When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week – Jn 20:19) denoting a new pericope in consideration.

However, in terms of the characters involved vv.1-10 could be considered as a single unit. It starts with Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. Finding the tomb open and assuming it to be empty, she ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved. Peter and the Beloved Disciple, then, visited the tomb. Jn 20:10 suggests that they went back to their homes –  Ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς οἱ μαθηταί. But, Mary continued to linger outside the tomb.

It is very clear that vv. 1-10 is primarily a narration of the visit to the tomb by the disciple. However, it is inserted very well into the narration of the visit to the tomb by the woman.  A statement on Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb serves as an introduction to the whole episode in vv 1-18 and her report on finding it empty triggered a series of action on the part of the disciples. Neal M. Flanagan observes that the characters in John’s resurrection narrative in Chapter 20 follows a peculiar pattern – a minor character in a pericope becomes the major character in the next pericope. Mary, a minor character in Jn 20:1-10 becomes the central character in Jn 20: 11-18. In the same way, Thomas, a minor character in Jn 20:1-25, becomes the central character in Jn 20: 26-29. Flanagan observes that this minor character arrives at belief only in the next pericope, where he/she is the major character.[2] Flanagan’s observations points to the fact that Jn 20:1-10 could be considered as a single unit for its main characters being Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Its main purpose is to narrate the reactions of these two disciples on hearing the news of the empty tomb.

Jn 20:10 states the return of Peter and the Beloved Disciple to their own. This suggests the end of the pericope and the subsequent entry of the angels and Jesus confirms a new pericope. Therefore, Jn 20:1-10 can be considered as a single unit.

2. Context of the Text

The chapters 20-21 of the Gospel of John could be termed as the Resurrection Narrative. It is the last section of the Gospel of John and is proceeded by the Passion Narrative. “John’s resurrection appearances may be divided into two categories: those in Jerusalem (chapter 20) and those in Galilee (chapter 21).”[3] But, considering that Jn 21 was a later addition, we must agree that, John had mentioned of only the resurrection appearances in Jerusalem.

The concerned text appears as the first pericope of the resurrection narrative in the Gospel of John. The pericope revolves around the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem. John had mentioned of the burial of Jesus in chapter 19. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus and buried it in a new tomb in the garden which was in the place where he was crucified. It was the day of the preparation (cf. Jn 19: 31-42).

The pericope, in consideration, could easily be titled as ‘the discovery of the empty tomb by the disciples.’ The disciples here include Mary Magdalene as well as Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple. So, in a way, it includes all the disciples, not merely apostles. The text, then, follows with the narrative of Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:11-18) and the disciples (Jn 20:19-29) before it states the purpose of the book (Jn 20:30-31).

3. Rhetorical Elements and Movements of the Text

John has composed the resurrection narrative with great artistic care. The empty tomb and the upper room are the two places of the narrative acts. Each narrative act contains two different scenes. Each scene also has two main characters: Peter and the Beloved Disciple; Mary Magdalene and Jesus; Jesus and the disciples; Jesus and Thomas. As we have already seen, a minor character in one becomes a major character in the following.[4] The Johannine narrative style of spiral progression is also at work here. Using the spiral method, the author repeatedly returns to the same theme of Resurrection with subtle variations and progression, culminating in the proclamation of Jesus as ‘my Lord and my God’ by Thomas and the subsequent promise of beatitude to those who would believe without seeing the resurrected Jesus tangibly.

The method of progressive revelation is also at work in the concerned unit, especially in the use of the word ‘see’ (βλέπω/ θεωρέω/ ὁράω – blepo/ theoreo/ horao).[5] Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb early and “saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (Jn 20:1). But her ‘seeing’ does not lead her to believe in the resurrection. Then, as the beloved disciple came to the tomb “he bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in” (Jn 20:5). There is, clearly, a progression on his seeing, but that is still not enough to lead to a belief in the resurrection. The verb used in both these instances is βλέπω (blepo). βλέπω (blepo) normally means to perceive with the eyes.[6] This is the meaning here too.[7] As such, the one who saw may remember what was seen, but that would not necessarily need any internal processing of the information. Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple perceived the empty tomb outwardly. “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there…” (Jn 20:6). There is a change in the verb in the Greek version. John uses the verb θεωρέω (theoreo) here. The change of verb indicates a change in the intensity of the ‘seeing.’ θεωρέω (theoreo) means “to observe something with continuity and attention, often with the implication that what is observed is something unusual.”[8] As such, Peter’s seeing the empty tomb is more intense and clear. There is also indication that what he saw inside the tomb is unusual! After Peter went in, “the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” (Jn 20:8). There is again a change in the verb in Greek. The author, now, uses the verb ὁράω (horao). ὁράω (horao) too indicates seeing in general, but with a stress on seeing in a transcendent manner.[9] Unlike βλέπω (blepo) in the earlier instances, ὁράω (horao) here indicates an internal mental processing, concerning what was perceived. Therefore, such ‘seeing’ leads to the belief in the resurrection.[10] As such, the concerned unit makes a progressive revelation using different connotations of the act of seeing.[11]

4. Structure of the Text

The text can be structured on the line of its progressive revelation as follows:

  1. Mary Magdalene sees the tomb open and summons Peter and John (20:1-3).
  2. The Beloved Disciple sees the empty tomb with the linen wrappings, but does not enter in (20:4-5).
  3. Peter enters the tomb and sees it in detail (20:6-7).
  4. The Beloved Disciple enters the empty tomb, sees and believes (20:8-9).
  5. The Disciples return (20:10).[12]

5. Exegetical Analysis of the Text

5.1. Mary Magdalene sees the opened tomb and summons Peter and John (20:1-3).

1 Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον καὶ βλέπει τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου. 2 τρέχει οὖν καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· ἦραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου καὶ οὐκ οἴδαμεν ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 3 Ἐξῆλθεν οὖν ὁ Πέτρος καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς καὶ ἤρχοντο εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον (Jn 20:1-3).

The phrase Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων … πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης (Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark) denotes the time. The phrase Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων (te de mia ton sabbaton), which literally means the first day of the Sabbaths, refers to the first day of the week or the first day after the Sabbath.[13] Therefore, the incident mentioned in this passage takes place on the early Sunday morning after the Sabbath and it was still dark. The p    revious pericope, Jn 19:38-42, narrates the burial of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea took Pilate’s permission and buried Jesus in a nearby tomb. “So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, as the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there” (Jn 19:42). Jesus was buried on the day of preparation, the day before Sabbath (cf. Jn 19:31) and his tomb was found to be empty on the first day after the Sabbath. Raymond Brown notes that, “here the Gospels[14] do not employ the kerygmatic expression “on the third day” or “after three days,” perhaps because the basic time indication of the finding of the tomb was fixed in Christian memory before the possible symbolism in the three-day reckoning had yet been perceived.”[15]

John mentions the time as πρωϊ σκοτίας ἑτι οὑσης (proi skotias heti ouses), “early, while it was still dark.” It appears to be in conflict with the Markan statement of women’s visit to the tomb. Mk 16:2 suggest that women went to the tomb very early… when the sun had risen (cf. Mt. 28:1: “toward the dawn”; Lk 24:1: “at early dawn”). Andreas J. Köstenberger suggests that “perhaps Mary was the first among a group of women to reach the tomb, or John refers to Mary’s leaving home while Mark speaks of her arrival at the grave site.”[16] However, such a conclusion is only a supposition. But John’s stress on her arrival at the tomb while it was still dark, could be associated with John’s theology of light and darkness. For John, darkness is associated with unbelief, and Mary, at least in this pericope, does not come away from her unbelief on the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus.[17]

According to the Gospel of John, it was Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ (Maria he Magadalene) who first found out the tomb open. Her name suggests that she was from Magdala in Galilee. Gospels mentions her only in relation to the crucifixion and the resurrection, except for Lk 8:2, where she is mentioned as a woman from whom seven devils were cast out. In whichever case, she was one of those women followers of Jesus who had followed him from Galilee. They synoptic accounts of the visit to the tomb mention other women who accompanied her (cf. Mk 16:1-8; Mt 27:1-8; Lk 24:1-11, 22-23), although Mary Magdalene is always mentioned first. There is no clear reason as to why the other women are omitted by John. But an indication of the presence of other women can be inferred on Mary Magdalene’s use of the plural in v.2, οὐκ οἱδαμεν (ouk oidamen), “we do not know”.[18] Probably, John focuses on Mary Magdalene as it was she who found out Peter and the Beloved Disciple and informed them of the empty tomb. Considering the difference in the timing between Mark and John on the visit to the tomb, one could, also, think of Mary Magdalene coming to the tomb earlier than other women and, then, running to inform about it to Peter and the Beloved Disciple.

John does not specify why Mary Magdalene came to the tomb. Mark and Luke mention that the women came to anoint Jesus’ body. However, Matthew says that they came to see the tomb, for they were unsure whether they would get an entry into the guarded tomb. For John, the body of Jesus was anointed at the time of burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (cf. 19:38–42).[19] Therefore, Mary (and probably other women with her) would have come to the tomb for the customary lamenting. The custom of mourning at the tomb was already mentioned in Jn 11:31. The Gospel of Peter, 50, also supports this view. It “says that Mary came because hitherto she had not done what women customarily did for their beloved departed, seemingly to wail and to lament (52–54).”[20]

When Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, she saw the stone moved away from the tomb, καὶ βλέπει τὸn λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου (kai blepei ton lithon ermenon ek tou mnemeiou). It was not necessary for the resurrected Jesus to remove the stone, that had been placed at the entrance of the tomb, to come out of the tomb. It is evident from the fact that the resurrected Jesus could pass through the shut doors (cf. Jn 20:19, 26). “Nevertheless, the stone had to be removed. This was necessary for two reasons: 1. In order to indicate that the grave had been conquered, that the victory had been achieved. 2. In order that Peter and John might be able to enter (see on 20:6, 8), and that everyone might be able to see that the tomb was empty!”[21]

Upon seeing the open tomb, Mary ran and came to Peter and the Beloved Disciple, ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς (erketai pros Simona Petrou kai pros ton allon matheten hon efilei ho Iesous). Mary was so enthusiastic to deliver the most important news she ever had. Therefore, she ran. But, why are only Peter and the Beloved Disciple mentioned? Peter and the other disciple were present during a part of Jesus’ trials (cf. Jn 18:15-18; 25-27), and the Beloved Disciple was standing under the cross with other women disciples, including Mary Magdalene (cf. Jn 19:25-27). The use of τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς (ton allon matheten hon efilei ho Iesous) suggests that the other disciple who was present along with Peter during the trials (cf. John 18:15-18) is indeed the Beloved Disciple. Therefore, probably Mary knew where to find Peter and the Beloved Disciple, who were struck together, whereas the other disciples were scattered.

Mary neither checked out facts before she made her report,[22] nor did she have any thoughts on the possibility of the resurrection when she told, ἦραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου (eran ton kurion ek tou mnemeiou), “they have taken the Lord out of the tomb.” Mary did not specify whom she thought had taken the body of Jesus away. Grave robberies were probably not unheard off. Or probably, ὴραν (eran) could be a reference to the authorities who had brought about the crucifixion itself, or the gardener who might have thought a criminal’s body should not be buried in his garden (cf. Jn 20:15). Or perhaps, John was aware of the controversies with Jewish leaders who accused Jesus’ disciples that they have stolen the body of Jesus; Mt 27:62-68; 28:11-15.[23] But how come Mary think that Jesus’ body has been stolen? She had only seen the open tomb and she looks into the tomb only at v. 11. One suggestion is that v. 11 followed v. 1 in the initial stages and vv. 2-10 was a later interpolation. Such a suggestion could also be in line with the synoptic accounts of the visit to the tomb by the women. As we have seen earlier, Mary’s use of the plural οὐκ οἱδαμεν (ouk oidamen), “we do not know” also suggests a synoptic tradition behind this story.

Unlike in the Lukan parallel (cf. Lk 24:12, 24) there is no mention of whether Peter and the other disciple believed what Mary said. Peter and the Beloved Disciple set out and went to the tomb. It is worth noting that Lk 24:12 speaks of only Peter running to the tomb, whereas Lk 24:24 mentions τινες τῶν σὺν ἡμῖν (tines ton sun hemin) which could be translated as “some of those who were with us.” Therefore, the possibility of someone running along Peter cannot be absolutely denied. However, there is no mentioning of Mary accompanying them back to the tomb, although she is back at the tomb in verse 11. The Lukan parallel also does not mention any such accompaniment. This reinforces the argument that vv. 2-10 were an interpolation.

5.2. The Beloved Disciple sees to the empty tomb with the linen wrappings, but does not enter in (20:4-5).

4 ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ· καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμεν τάχιον τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 5 καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια, οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν (Jn 20:4-5).

Peter and the Beloved Disciple were running together (ὁμοῦ), but the Beloved Disciple ran faster than Peter and reached the tomb first. Many biblical interpreters have tried to argue the Beloved Disciple as being younger than Peter for his running faster.[24] But such an argument is feeble as the verse does not say anything about the age of the disciple, nor is age always directly correlated with running speed. The author may just want to show the intensity of the love of the Beloved Disciple and his coming to believe in the possibility of the resurrection at first (cf. 20:8).

The other disciple, who came to the tomb, first bend over to look in (παρακύψας / parakupsas). The low opening of a tomb carved into the hillside must have necessitated such an action. By this time, there was enough light for the Beloved Disciple to see inside. He saw the linen wrappings. But, he did not enter the tomb (οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν / ou mentoi eiselthen). There is no specific reason as to why he did not enter in, although he had arrived before Peter. But it is important to note that unlike Mary, he bend down and looked inside and surely, he saw more than Mary. However, the use of the verb βλέπω (blepo) suggests that, although he had seen more than Mary, there is no progress with regard to believing in the possibility of resurrection.

5.3. Peter enters the tomb and sees it in detail (20:6-7).

6 ἔρχεται οὖν καὶ Σίμων Πέτρος ἀκολουθῶν αὐτῷ καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, 7 καὶ τὸ σουδάριον, ὃ ἦν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ, οὐ μετὰ τῶν ὀθονίων κείμενον ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον (Jn 20:6-7).

Unlike the Beloved Disciple, Peter did not stop at the entrance of the tomb. He entered in. As we have seen, one could notice a progressive narration of the empty tomb here. Mary Magdalene had seen the open tomb, but did not bother to check in or look inside. The Beloved Disciple looked inside and saw the linen wrappings, but did not bother to go inside until Peter checked in. And when Peter entered the tomb, he too saw the linen wrappings. He also saw the σουδάριον (soudarion), the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head.[25]

The linen wrappings (τὰ ὀθόνια /ta othonia) were sufficient evidence that the body had not simply been moved. Grave robbers or the authorities/gardener would not have cared for removing the linen wrappings. Such robbery or removal is also denied by the fact that the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was “rolled up” (ἐντυλίσσω /entulisso) and kept in a place by itself. σουδάριον (soudarion) was a piece of face-cloth for wiping perspiration.[26] It was also mentioned in connection with Lazarus’ resuscitation (Jn 11:44). But then, someone had to remove his bandages and the face-cloth after he had come out of the grave. If the face-cloth was so attaced to a dead body, then someone who would remove the body in haste would not have worried to leave those clothes behind and that too so neat, “rolled up in a place by itself.”[27]

Thus, Peter’s entering into the tomb and ‘seeing’ it in detail indicates a progress in the revelation of the resurrection. John makes a change of verb to describe Peter’s ‘seeing.’ He uses the verb θεωρέω (theoreo) here, while in earlier instances in 20:1, 5 he had used βλέπω (blepo). As we have seen, θεωρέω (theoreo) means “to observe something with continuity and attention, often with the implication that what is observed is something unusual.”[28] Such an observation points to the fact that what he saw inside the tomb is not usual. Grave robberies, if they were common, too are so denied. Moreover, it opens the possibility of an unusual resurrection.

5.4. The Beloved Disciple enters the empty tomb, sees and believes (20:8-9).

8 τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς ὁ ἐλθὼν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν· 9 οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφὴν ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι (Jn 20:8-9).

Finally, the other disciple also went in.  He saw and believed, καὶ εἶδεν, καὶ ἐπίστευσεν (kai eiden, kai episteusen). John again changes the verb to indicate the Beloved Disciple’s ‘seeing.’ εἶδεν (eiden) is an indicative aorist active 3rd person singular form of the verb ὁράω. As we have already seen, ὁράω (horao) means to see with perception, but with a stress on seeing in a transcendent manner. ὁράω (horao) is a widely-used term in the Gospel of John. John the Baptist had invited his listeners to see the ‘Lamb of God’ (Jn 1:29, 36). He also says, as he testifies, “And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34). Jesus, then, invites his would-be followers to ‘come and see’ (cf. Jn 1:39, 46). There are also many other instances in which John uses the verb ὁράω to mean perception beyond the normal sense of seeing (cf. Jn 1:47-51; 3:3 11, 32, 36, etc.). It is also important to note that ὁράω (horao) is used with πιστεύω (pisteuo), meaning to believe/have faith. The phrase ‘he saw and believed’ anticipates Jesus’ later meeting with Thomas in which Jesus pronounces, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed” (Jn 20:29). For John, this type of faith based on reliable testimony is superior to the faith based on eyewitness experience.[29]

It is true that the evangelist does not specify what the ‘other disciple’ believed. Did he believe in what Mary Magdalene reported? But, such an argument would be anti-climax to the entire scene.[30]  Given the progressive manner of revelation in ‘seeing,’ it would be safe to say that the Beloved Disciple believed in the resurrection. However, the use of the plural ᾔδεισαν (edeisan – they) in v. 9 makes it difficult to believe that the Beloved Disciple believed in the resurrection, if ᾔδεισαν (edeisan) applies to both Peter and the Beloved Disciple. However, the response of Peter to what the Beloved Disciple believed is not recorded by John. Did there arise a conflict between the beliefs of Peter and the Beloved Disciple? If so, could it be because they did not, till then, understand the scripture? But such an argument would be entirely speculative. One could also argue that the understanding of the scripture concerning the resurrection has nothing to do with believing in resurrection. Would it be difficult for someone who has seen the resuscitation of Lazarus to believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Moreover, the reader is surely reminded of the resuscitation of Lazarus here by the description of the clothes lying there. The linen wrappings (τὰ ὀθόνια / ta othonia) which had wrapped up the body of Jesus would make a parallel with the bandages (ἡ κειρία /he keiria) with which Lazarus hands and feet were bound and both Jesus and Lazarus had the face-cloth (σουδάριον /soudarion). Thus, it appears that the Beloved Disciple entered the tomb after Peter and saw the state of the graveclothes and he believed in the resurrection, although he had not understood the scripture concerning resurrection.

So presumably, the Beloved Disciple believed on the basis of seeing the orderly arranged empty tomb rather than believing according to the scripture. There are a few scholars who would argue that the Beloved disciple believed on the basis of the empty tomb and without resurrection experience. Thus, in contrast to Thomas, who demands to see the risen Jesus, they equate his faith with that later believers who would believe without seeing Jesus.[31] However, such an argument would be lame for it is written, ‘he saw and believed.’ He had some serious tangible evidence to believe in the resurrection and not just a reliable testimony. According to the Gospel of John faith apart from seeing is superior (Jn 20:29).

Apart from this, it points to the fact that the disciples did not fabricate a story in order to fit their understanding of Scripture. Lk 24:25-27 agrees that the disciples come to understand the full significance of the Scripture regarding the resurrection only at Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. However, it is not clear which Scripture the evangelist has in mind. The singular γραφή (grafe) may indicate that a specific OT text is in view – suggestions include Ps 16:10; Isa 53:10-12; and Hos 6:2 – though it cannot be ruled out that the reference is to Scripture in its entirety. The particle δεῖ in v. 9 suggests that it was a divine necessary for Jesus to rise again.

5.5. The disciples return home (Jn 20:10).

10 ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς αὐτοὺς οἱ μαθηταί (Jn 20:10).

Unlike Lk 25:12, where Peter was ‘wondering at what had happened,’ John makes no mention of what the disciples thought or did while returning. The disciples just returned to their own homes. The Greek version, however, does not use the word ‘home.’ It simply says, they returned to their own. This going back, probably, refers to the fact that this faith on resurrection has not made any significant change in their lives. It is also clear from the fact that they had shut the door for fear of the Jews until evening (Jn 20:19).

6. Conclusion

The visit of the women to the empty tomb was a well-known tradition among the early Christians. But visit of two men who confirms the empty tomb is more Johannine, although visit of Peter (or more disciples as we have seen earlier) based on the words of women is accounted in Lk 24:12, 24. Luke also does not mention that Peter believed for Peter goes home ‘amazed at what had happened.’ Now, the Johannine account of two men renders the evidence admissible under the Jewish legal system (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15). Moreover, if we consider the Beloved Disciple as the author of the Gospel, his witness to resurrection carries more weight.

The empty tomb was surely an indication of the resurrection. But the tomb being, merely, empty would have arisen many doubts regarding its authenticity. That is why, probably, the evangelist was not merely presenting an empty tomb, but a tidy tomb without the body of Jesus. The graveclothes were not scattered about the tomb, but arranged in an orderly manner. This is what led the Beloved Disciple to believe. In short, through a well-orchestrated progressive narration, John authenticate the opened and tidy tomb without the body of Jesus as a strong evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

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[1] Hermann Olshausen, John H. Ebrard, and Augustus Wiesinger, Biblical Commentary on the New Testament (trans. A. C. Kendrick and David Fosdick; first American Edition; Königsberg: Wilhem Unzer, 1835; repr., New York: Sheldon, Blakeman, & Co., 1857), 3:114.

[2] Neal M. Flanagan, “John,” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Based on the New American Bible with Revised New Testament (ed. Dianne and Robert J. Karris Bergant; Previously published in 36 separate booklets.; Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1989), 1015.

[3] Beauford H. Bryant and Mark S. Krause, John (Joplin, Miss.: College Press Publishing Company, 1998), Jn 20:3.

[4] Flanagan, “John,” in Bergant, The Collegeville Bible Commentary, 1015.

[5] John G. Butler, John (Analytical Bible Expositor; Clinton, Iowa: LBC Publications, 2009), 294.

[6] Blass, Debrunner, and Funk, “βλέπω,” BDF, §1504 (1).

[7] This is not to deny the fact that βλέπω is also used in other senses. See Friberg, Friberg, and  Miller, “βλέπω,” ANLEX, § 4898 (“βλέπω fut. βλέψω; 1aor. ἔβλεψα; see, look at; (1) of sense perception see (MT 7.3); (2) in contrast to being blind be able to see (LU 7.21); figuratively, of spiritual perception see, understand, be aware of (JN 9.39; RO 11.8); (3) of careful observing look at, regard (MT 5.28; JN 13.22); (4) of mental functions; (a) as directing one’s attention take notice of, regard, consider (1C 1.26); (b) as taking warning watch, beware, take heed (MK 13.9); (c) as mentally perceiving discover, find, become aware of (RO 7.23)”).

[8] Louw and Nida, “θεωρέω ,” L&N, § 3127.

[9] Bauer et al., “ὁράω,” BDAG, § 5358.

[10] The next pericope on Jesus’ apparition to Mary Magdalene also uses two verbs for seeing, ‘θεωρέω’ and ‘ὁράω.’ The verb ὁράω is preferred for Mary’s proclamation of her experience to the disciples (cf. Jn 20:18). So does the seeing of the Lord by the disciples in 20:20, their telling of it to Thomas in 20:25, and the beatitude promise of Jesus to those who would believe without seeing in 20:29. This reinforces the argument that the verb ὁράω refers to a supernatural seeing in the resurrection narratives of John.

[11] The ‘sight’ or ‘seeing’ is a major theme in the gospel of John. The narratives in the Gospel of John (4:1-42; 5:1-15; 9:35-38; and 20:1-10, 11-18) are stamped with the motif of seeking/finding and the transition from not seeing/not knowing to seeing/knowing/believing. The Johnannine concept of ‘seeing’ begins in 1:14. The first words of Jesus in the gospel of John is an invitation to ‘come and see’ (cf. 1:38-39). This concept of seeing is exemplified in the story of the blind man in chapter 9. (cf. Udo Schnelle, Theology of the New Testament (trans. Boring M. Eugene; Göttingen, KG.: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co., 2007; repr., Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2009), 719-720.) And there, too, the blind man makes a progressive seeing as seeing in general (βλέπω, in 9:7, 15, 19, 21, 25) to seeing and believing in Jesus (ὁράω, in 9:37).

[12] One could also structure the pericope chiastically. Such structuring would make Peter’s seeing the empty tomb in detail as the central act. That would put more stress on the unusal setting of the tomb, resulting in a physical witness to the resurrection.The chiastic sturcture is given below.

A. Mary Magdalene sees the opened tomb and summons Peter and John (20:1-3).

B. The Beloved Disciple sees to the empty tomb with the linen wrappings, but does not enter in (20:4-5).

C. Peter enters the tomb and sees it in detail (20:6-7).

B’. The Beloved Disciple enters the empty tomb, sees and believes (20:8-9).

A’. The Disciples return (20:10).

[13] The use of the cardinal numbers to denote the days of the month was perhaps from Hebraism. (cf. Maximilian Zerwick, Biblical Greek: Illustrated by Examples (trans. Joseph. Smith; english ed., adapted from the 4th Latin ed.; 1944; repr., Rome: Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1963), 52. See also “Εἳς,” BDF, §247.)

[14] All the four Gospels follow the same pattern here.

[15] Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI): Introduction, Translation, and Notes (AB 29A; London: Doubleday, 1970; repr., New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), 980.

[16]Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004), 561.

[17] Cf. Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 518.

[18] According to Dalman, the use first person plural for the first-person singular was common in Galilean Aramaic. (Cf. Gustaf Dalman, Grammatik des jüdisch-palästinischen Aramäisch: nach den Idiomen des palästinischen Talmud, des Onkelostargum und Prophetentargum und der Jerusalemischen Targume (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs’sche Buchhandlung, 1905), 265). If it was so, why would the author not use the same form in v.13?

[19] Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John (BNTC; London: Continuum, 2005; repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 488.

[20] Brown, John (XIII-XXI), 981.

[21] William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (vol. 1-2; NTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002), 2:448.

[22] Butler, John, 292.

[23] Cf. Flanagan, “John,” in Bergant, The Collegeville Bible Commentary, 1016.

[24] The traditions which connect apostle John as the Beloved Disciple who authored the Gospel consider this as serious supporting argument. John is believed to be younger, who lived into the last decade of the first century.

[25] It may also be noted that it was the Beloved Disciple who recognized Jesus at the shore, but it was Peter who jumped into the water to reach Jesus first (Jn 21:7).

[26] “σουδάριον,” BDAG, §6748.

[27] Cf. Lincoln, John, 490,

[28] Louw and Nida, L&N, § 3127.

[29] Bryant and Krause, John, Jn 20:8.

[30] Cf. Lincoln, John, 490,

[31] Lincoln, John, 491

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