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An Insisting Lover

(A Hermeneutical Study of John 20: 24-29)


24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.

 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
 26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”
 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”
 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

‘Doubting Thomas’ has become a well-known phrase in many languages. This phrase is based on the resurrection narrative episode in John 20:24-29. My reading of the passage always put me in difficult situations with many questions to answer. Therefore I thought it is good that I indulge myself in a serious study of the passage.

De-Limitation of the Text

If we take the Gospel of John as a whole, chapters 20 and 21 constitute the resurrection narratives of Jesus. These resurrection narratives have different narrative units. Scholars do differ in the identification of the units. As the most scholars would agree, I would also identify John 20:24-29 as one unit. The reasons for my de-limiting the text to verses 24 to 29 are as follows:

· Change in Time:The passage clearly indicates a change in time. Jesus appeared to the disciples on the first day on the week, that is, on the day of his resurrection. He appears to Thomas after eight days, on the first day of the next week.

· Change in Characters:The passage also clearly mentions a change in characters. It adds Thomas to the other disciples who were present at the first encounter of the Risen Lord. Although some scholars argue that the previous unit of the resurrection narrative pre-supposes presence of all the eleven apostles, the text itself denies that view point and clearly mentions that Thomas was not present when Jesus came (v.24).

· Change in the genre: Although the previous unit does not differ from the present unit in genre, there is a clear distinction of genre from the following unit. Whereas John 20:24-29 is a narrative, the following unit could very well be a conclusion for the Gospel.

An Analysis of the Text

The passage is modeled on the first post-resurrection appearance narrative to the disciples in the closed doors. These units are arranged in an ABA′B′ pattern.

A     v. 18: Mary’s testimony, “I have seen the Lord.” A′     vv. 24–25: Disciples’ testimony, “We have seen the Lord.”
B     vv. 19–23: Appearance to the disciplestime reference, v. 19adisciples gathered with the door shut,
v.19b

Jesus came and stood among them, v. 19c

and said, “Peace be with you,” v. 19d

he shows his hands and side,

v. 20a disciples respond, v. 20b

Jesus said, vv. 21–23

B′     vv. 26–29 Appearance to Thomastime reference, v. 26adisciples gathered with door shut, v. 26b

Jesus came and stood among them, v. 26c

and said, “Peace be with you,” v. 26d

Invitation to touch hands and side, v. 27

Thomas’s response, v. 28

Jesus said, v. 29.[1]

The above pattern will help us to understand Thomas in a better light.

Insisting Love

The traditional designation of this disciple as ‘doubting Thomas’ and a number of translations (cf. e.g. NRSV and NIV) tend to mislead. The verb ‘to doubt’ (or some cognate form) does not occur in the passage. Instead, Jesus asks Thomas to change from being disbelieving or unbelieving (ἄπιστος) to believing (πιστός).[2] Therefore, the verse 25 calls for a deeper understanding. In John 11:16, Thomas comes across to us as a man of courage—he was ready to go even to death- and as man of affection for Christ—“Lct us also go, that we may die with him.”[3] These two characteristics of Thomas would explain the absence of Thomas and his insistence to see Jesus. Some scholars try to explain the absence of Thomas and the subsequent insistence as his being absent from the community. He withdrew from the Christian fellowship.[4]But looking at the textual evidence, one can very well say, that the Christian fellowship as a celebration on Sunday had not yet began when Jesus appeared on the dawn of his resurrection. And one can very well argue that, since the disciples were gathered together in the closed doors for the fear of the Jews (v.19), Thomas would not want to be associated with him because he was a courageous soul. A very good imagination of a preacher seems to be more real here. He might have gone to get some basic necessities for all those who were still in fear. In any case, his absence is not an offense, but an excuse for his stubbornness. If that is the case, his insistence to see the Lord seems to be originating from the love. A psychological reading of the verse 25 might through some light on the character of Thomas. He should have clearly asked, “How can Jesus, my master whom I love so much, appear to others when I am not here? How can he breathe the Holy Spirit and give them the power to forgive sins in my absence?” Therefore, Thomas stubbornness arises from a deep love.

On the basis of v. 29 it is often suggested that Thomas’ problem was the wish to see Jesus rather than simply to believe and that he is employed as a means of showing that it should not be necessary to see Jesus in order to believe in him.[5] Here Thomas stands as a person who represented all the disciples who doubted in resurrection (ref. Jn 20:20; Lk 24:36-43; Mk 16:11,13Mt 28:17). He is the voice for everyone and as a result he becomes the medium for the last beatitude in the Gospels. From the evangelist’s perspective, Thomas’s objection becomes a welcome foil for forestalling the incipient gnostic notion that Jesus only appeared to be human (the heresy later termed “Docetism,”). Just as in the case of the incarnation (1:14), John takes pains to affirm that Jesus “came in the flesh” which entails also that his resurrection body was not merely that of a phantom or spirit apparition but a “fleshy” (albeit glorified) body.[6]

Obliging Lord

As the Indian thought goes, “bhagavan ko sache bhakton ke samne jhukna padega!.” The Lord will have to bend down to the true believer. This becomes true in the case of Thomas. He demanded to see and touch the Lord, and the Lord offers him everything he asked for. The Lord can see the innermost thought of the faithful and can be present anywhere, even in the closed doors (v.19 and 26). The Lord here obliges to Thomas’ insisting love. Thomas is an uncompromisingly honest man. There is more ultimate faith in the man who insists on being sure than in the man who glibly repeats things which he has never thought out, and which he may not really believe.[7] It is to this uncompromising honesty that Lord gives in. The verse, … καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος ἀλλὰ πιστός (v.27) does not reflect the idea that Thomas was a doubter as is the translation of NRSV. But it is a loving invitation of the Lord, who obliges to the demand of the disciple, to a life changing faith experience.

The Proclamation of Faith

The invitation of the Lord for a life changing faith, really effects the change in the life of Thomas. Just as a child who insist to see its mother and after seeing her forgets all its worries, Thomas forgets all his stubbornness and doubts and proclaims the most important creed of the faith in the Gospels. So far all the disciples (which include Mary Magdalene), who were witness to Risen Jesus, would acknowledge him as the Lord. Thomas, the one accused of unbelief, makes a radical shift to become a mouthpiece for the highest possible confession of faith in Jesus.[8] The combination “Lord and God” is used for the Father in Revelation 4:11. The Roman emperor Domitian wished to be addressed in similar terms. Whether or not the Evangelist intended the ascription to be a counterblast to the emperor cult, it would have had the potential to be heard by the community as a counterbalance to political religion.[9]Thus, the proclamation of Thomas is very important for John. It is only apt that he puts it in the mouth of Thomas who is courageous and loving.

With love and courage, each Christian is encouraged proclaim Christ as the Lord and God of his or her life. The theology of the fourth Gospel as being a journey from no faith to the fullness of faith becomes complete in this proclamation of Thomas. This proclamation is a powerful one in both the religious and the political circles. It thus becomes a threat to Jews who could not accept the Messiah and the Roman emperor who insisted on him being worshipped as the Lord and God.

The Final Beatitude

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe (v.29b).” The change of tense in the participle (πεπίστευκας … ἰδόντες) evidently marks the statement as realised already in the Christian society. There must have been many disciples who had only heard of the appearances on Easter Day, and of these some at least had believed. [10] Thomas attains for all the future disciples of Jesus, an eternal blessing. He was in the position of the believer of later times. He was only told of the resurrection of Jesus. But he insisted on seeing him. But now the evangelist clearly mentions that, although Jesus obliged to the persisting love of Thomas, blessed are those who do not seek any signs and yet believe that Jesus is Lord and God.

Conclusion

In a world which seeks of scientific proof for everything, it has become a norm that we look for evidence of everything. The scientific approach to the scripture tries to analyze and find some conclusive evidence to the resurrection of Jesus. I wonder how tedious it is to prove that resurrection is a reality. However hard we try, we will not be able to prove it. What we need is the attitude of Thomas- an insisting love searching for the Lord with an uncompromisingly honest desire. If only we could search him in and with such love, the resurrection will become meaningful to our lives. Authentic faith is based on testimony and the Gospel narrative itself, with its witness to Jesus’ signs, including his resurrection, makes such faith available to later readers. [11]

Blessed are those who can experience the resurrection in the loving simplicity of hearts!

Bibliography

Barclay, William., ed. The Gospel of John: Volume 2 in The Daily study Bible Series. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000.

Bryant, Beauford H. and Mark S. Krause. John. in The College Press NIV commentary, Joplin, Mo.: College Press Publication Company, 1998.

Köstenberger, Andreas J. John in Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2004.

Lincoln, Andrew T. Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Saint John. Originally published: A commentary on the Gospel according to St. John. London: Continuum, 2005; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005.

Pink, A. W. Exposition of John. electronic ed. Escondido, CA: The Ephesians Four Group, 2000.

Talbert, Charles H. Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles. Originally published: New York: Crossroad, 1992. Revised ed. Reading the New Testament Series. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005.

Westcott, Arthur. The Gospel According to St. John: Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version. edited by Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott; London: J. Murray, 1908.


[1]Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles(Originally published: New York: Crossroad, 1992.; Rev. ed.; Reading the New Testament series Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005), 261.

[2]Andrew T. Lincoln, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Saint John(Originally published: A commentary on the Gospel according to St. John. London: Continuum, 2005; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 502.

[3]A. W. Pink, Exposition of John(electronic ed.; Escondido, CA: The Ephesians Four Group, 2000), 291.

[4]William Barclay,ed. The Gospel of John: Volume 2(The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975), 276.

[5]Lincoln, Black’s New Testament Commentary, 502.

[6]Andreas J. Köstenberger, John(Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2004), 578.

[7]The Gospel of John: Volume 2( ed. William Barclay), 277.

[8]Beauford H. Bryant and Mark S. Krause, John(The College Press NIV commentary; Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1998), Jn 20:28.

[9]Talbert, Reading John, 265.

[10]Arthur Westcott, ed., The Gospel According to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version(ed. Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott; London: J. Murray, 1908), 297.

[11]Lincoln, Black’s New Testament Commentary, 504.

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The Empty Tomb

(A Source Critical Study of John 20:1-10)

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.

Introduction

The finding of the Empty Tomb in John’s Gospel (Jn 20:1-10) is a combination of different traditions and stories. John, the last gospel to be written chronologically, made use of the sources that were available to him. These sources probably contained one or more of Synoptic gospels or Synoptic Tradition, of which John was at least familiar with. He also added his own materials to the narration to contain his theological stand.

Similarities and Dissimilarities between Different Narratives

The two different narratives that lay behind the description of the empty tomb in John are the visit to the empty tomb by the women or woman (vv.1-2[1]) and a visit to the empty tomb by the disciples (Peter or Peter and John). In the first account, the episode of the empty tomb has at some point been simplified to include only Mary Magdalene of the tradition’s women but—uniquely—expanded to include also Peter, with the result that there is a kind of progression within the story.[2]In addition to John 20, The visit to the empty tomb by women is also narrated in Mk 16:1-8, Mt 27:1-8 and Lk. 24:1-11; 22-23. In the same way, the visit to the empty tomb by the disciples is narrated in Lk 24:12, 24.

As in the Synoptic accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb, the action takes place on the first day of the week. The unstated purposes of the going to the tomb, as well as the reference to “the stone,” presuppose a knowledge of the Synoptic tradition.[3] In contrast to the Synoptics the earliness of Mary’s visit is described as while it was still dark.[4] In 20:1 Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb alone, but her report in v. 2 uses the plural “we,” appropriate to traditions in which several women visited the tomb.[5] Probably the evangelist reduced the number to Mary Magdalene to fit the tradition in which she sees the risen Lord[6](Mk.16:9-11).

THE VARIANT GOSPEL NARRATIVES OF THE VISIT OF THE WOMEN TO THE TOMB[7]

Mark 16:1–8 Matt 28 Luke 24 John 20
Time Very early Early
First day of week First day of week First day of week First day of the week
Sun risen Growing light At first dawn Still dark
Women Mary Magdalene Mary Magdalene Mary Magdalene Mary Magdalene
Mary, mother of James Other Mary Mary, mother of James (Note “we” in vs. 2)
Salome Joanna and Others
Purpose Bought aromatic
oils
Had aromatic oils from Friday
Came to anoint Came to see tomb Took aromatic
oils along
Visual
Phenomena
Earthquake
Angel descended
Stone already
rolled back
He rolled back
the stone
Stone already rolled back Stone already moved away
Youth sitting inside on right He sat on stone (outside) Two men standing (inside) (Later) two angels sitting inside
Conversation Youth said: Angel said: Men asked: (Later) angels asked:
Not to fear Not to fear Why seek living
among dead?
Why do you weep?
Jesus not here Jesus not here Jesus not here (Later) Mary answered:
He is raised He is raised He is raised They took my Lord
away
Tell disciples that he is going to Galilee Tell disciples that he is going to Galilee As he told you while still in Galilee (Later Jesus gives Mary a message for disciples)
There you will
see him
There you will see
him
Reaction Women fled trembling, astonished Women went away quickly with fear, great joy Women left Mary ran to Peter and to
Beloved Disciple
Told no one To tell disciples Told Eleven
and rest
Told them that body had been taken

The above chart shows a considerable variation in the details of what the women saw at the tomb, and one can plausibly argue that the varied angelic appearances and angelic conversations represent a dramatization of the import of the empty tomb. There are also secondary apologetic features, for instance, in Matthew’s attempt to make the women witnesses of the opening of the tomb and also in Matthew’s whole story about the guard at the tomb. But behind these variations there is a basic tradition that some women followers of Jesus came to the tomb on Easter morning and found it empty—a tradition that is older than any of the preserved accounts.[8]This tradition is also expressed in the Emmaus experience of the disciples in Luke 24 (vv. 22-24). Thus it becomes clear that John conveniently inserts the tradition of the disciples’ visit to the empty tomb into this tradition after simplifying it to the visit of Mary Magdalene and then adding another tradition of the appearance of the Lord to her in vv14-18.

The narrative of the visit of the apostles to the tomb also varies from its counterpart in Luke 24:12. According to some commentators, through the introduction of the Beloved Disciple, the Fourth Gospel elaborates on the tradition of Peter running to the tomb, found in Luke 24:12.[9] The repetition of the preposition “to” has been noted by commentators. Those who think that the Beloved Disciple was not mentioned in the original form of the story find here the sign of an addition.[10] The studies of Haenchen shows that Verse 3, which is lacking in D a b e l r1, is not an insertion in John 20, but it was omitted because it contradicted Luke 24:24 according to which several disciples went to the tomb. For that reason, Luke 24:12 began to be recogized as the original text. Therefore, Luke 24: 24 could have been the thing that prompted the redactor to introduce the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (ἐφίλει) into the account alongside Peter.[11]

Thus it becomes clear that the writer of the fourth Gospel inserts the story of the disciples’ visit to the tomb, into the narrative of the woman’s disciples. And according to him, it is disciples who are verifying the empty tomb at first, although they do not any angelic vision.. At the same time he follows Lk 24:12 in all the details of Peter’s visit although he adds up a few more details. The beloved disciple is added to the narrative of Peter to be in conformity with Lk 24:24. It is evident from the fact that the descriptions containing the tomb are duplicated (vv 5 and 6). The below table will clearly bring out the differences in the narratives in Lk 24:9-12 and Jn 20:2-10.

THE VARIANT GOSPEL NARRATIVES OF THE DISCIPLES’ VISIT TO THE TOMB

Lk 24:9-12 Jn 20:2-10
Women
and
the Disciples
they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. (vv. 9) she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved,and said to them, (vv 2a)
The Reaction
of the Disciples
But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them (vv 11)
Peter But Peter got up and ran to the tomb(vv 12a) Then Peter (vv 3a)
and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. (vv 3b)
The two were running together,(vv 4a)
but the other disciple outran Peter and
reached the tomb first. (vv 4b)
stooping and looking in (vv 12b) He bent down to look in (vv 5a)
and saw the linen wrappings lying there, (vv 5b)
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. (vv 6)
he saw the linen cloths by themselves(vv12c) He saw the linen wrappings lying there, (vv 6b)
and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen rappings but rolled up in a place by itself. (vv 7)
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he (the beloved disciple) saw and believed.(v 8)
then he went home (vv12 c) Then the disciples returned to their homes. (vv 10)
amazed at what had happened. (vv 12c) for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from
the dead. (vv 9)

Reconstructing the Johannine Source

On the basis of above analysis, we can very well re-construct a source which might have been available for the fourth evangelist. This source itself could be a combination of two different traditions. But an approach is made to arrive at a more concise Johannine source.

Pre-Johannine Source

20 1Early on Sunday[12](while it was still dark) Mary Magdalene [and … ] came to the tomb and saw the stone taken from the tomb. 2And she [or they] ran and came to Simon Peter and told [him], “They have taken the Master from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.” 3So Peter went out, and they came to the tomb. 6bAnd he went into the tomb and he saw the burying cloths lying. [And he wondered.] 9For as yet they did not know the scripture that he must rise from the dead. 10So [he] went home again.[13]

Conclusion

Thus a study of the events that took place in the morning of Easter Sunday, according to John is a combination of three different traditions as R. Brown correctly puts. All the same, the finding of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and the disciples (Jn 20:1-10) is a redaction of two independent sources of women going to the empty tomb and on their word, the disciples too visit. Although the text follows Synoptic tradition in general and Lukan narration in particular, author redacts its content to explain his theology.

Bibliography

Beasley, George R. Murray, vol. 36, Word Biblical Commentary: John. Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

Brown, R.E. The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI): Introduction, Translation, and Notes. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008.

Brown, R. E. et al., The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1996, c1968.

Fortna, Robert T. The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor: From Narrative Source to Present Gospel.London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004. Originally published: Philadelphia: Fortress Press, c1988.

Haenchen, Ernst et al., John : A Commentary on the Gospel of John. Translation of: Das Johannesevangelium.;, Hermeneia–a critical and historical commentary on the BiblePhiladelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Lincoln, Andrew T. Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Saint John. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005. Originally published: A commentary on the Gospel according to St. John. London: Continuum, 2005.

Perkins, Pheme, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Bangalore: TPI, 2009. Originally published: Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, c1988.


[1] According to R. E. Brown vv 1–2 and 11–13 are two different forms of a single story (cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, vol. 36, Word Biblical Commentary: John(Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 368.)

[2]Robert Tomson Fortna, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor: From Narrative Source to Present Gospel(Originally published: Philadelphia: Fortress Press, c1988.; London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004), 188.

[3]R. E. Brown et al., The Jerome Biblical Commentary(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1996, c1968), 2:463.

[4]Andrew T. Lincoln, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Saint John(Originally published: A commentary on the Gospel according to St. John. London : Continuum, 2005.;Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2005), 488.

[5] Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel According to John,” NJBC 982.

[6] Perkins, “The Gospel According to John,” 983.

[7] Brown, S.S., The Gospel According to John (XIII-XXI): Introduction, Translation, and Notes(New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 974.

[8] Brown, The Gospel According to John, 977.

[9] Lincoln, Black’s New Testament Commentary, 489.

[10]Brown, The Gospel According to John, 983.

[11]Ernst Haenchen et al., John : A Commentary on the Gospel of John(Translation of: Das Johannesevangelium.;, Hermeneia–a critical and historical commentary on the BiblePhiladelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 208.

[12]Greek: “on the first of the week.”

[13] Fortna, The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessor, 187.

 

 

 

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