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Bible Commentaries

Godet's Commentary on Selected Books

John 20

Verses 1-3

Vv. 1-3. “ On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the sepulchre early, while it was yet dark, and she sees that the stone is taken away from the sepulchre; 2, she runs therefore and comes to Simon Peter and to the disciple whom Jesus loved, and says to them, They have taken away the Lord from the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. 3. Peter therefore went forth, and the other disciple, and they came to the sepulchre.

In the expression μία τῶν σαββάτων , we may give to the word σάββατα the meaning Sabbath: “the first day ( μία ) starting from the Sabbath.” But Luk 18:12 proves that σάββατον or σάββατα signifies also the entire week, as forming the interval between two Sabbaths. It is better therefore to explain μία : the first [of the days] of the week. The name Μαγδαληνή ( Magdalene) is derived from that of village of Magdala, probably El Megdjil, two leagues northward of Tiberias, on the borders of the lake of Gennesareth. The greater the deliverance which Mary Magdalene owed to Jesus (Luke 8:2, Mar 16:9 ), the more ardent was her gratitude, the more lively her attachment to His person. John does not speak of the purpose which brought her to the sepulchre, but it is indicated by the Synoptics: it was to embalm the Lord's body. Did she come alone? This is in itself scarcely probable, at so early an hour in the morning. The Synoptics inform us that she had companions who came with the same intention as herself. They were Mary, the mother of James, Salome, Joanna and some others who had come with Jesus from Galilee (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luk 24:10 ).

There is in John's narrative itself a word which gives us to understand that she did not come alone. It is the plural οἴδαμεν , we know; for, whatever Meyer may say, it is impossible to understand by this we: I, Mary, and you, the disciples (!). If Mary alone is mentioned, it is because of the part which she plays in the following scene. Meyer makes the οὐκ οἶδα , I do not know, of Joh 20:13 an objection. But this contrast is precisely what disproves it. There she is alone with the angels, and naturally she speaks only in her own name, as she also says: My Lord, and no longer: the Lord ( Joh 20:2 ).

These women or some of them came together. But, as soon as from a distance they saw the tomb, open, Mary Magdalene, carried away by her vividness of impression, hastens to go and tell the disciples, while her companions come even to the sepulchre. There is a slight chronological difference between John, Matthew and Luke, who say: “ As it was dark,” or “ at the dawn of day,” and Mark, who says: “ The sun having risen. ” Perhaps there were several groups of women in succession whom each evangelist unites in a single one. Hence this slight difference as to the time of arriving. It was during the absence of Mary that her companions received the message of the angel, related by the three Synoptics.

Mat 28:9-10 relates that, on their return from the sepulchre, there was an appearance of Jesus to these women. But the narrative in Mar 16:8 and especially the words of the two disciples from Emmaus, Luke 24:22-42.24.23: “They had a vision of angels, saying that he was alive,” are incompatible with this fact.

This appearance to the women is, therefore, no other than the appearance to Mary Magdalene (which is to follow in John) generalized. All the details of the appearance coincide. The First Gospel applies to the entire group what happened to one of its members. As Mary Magdalene saw the Lord only after the other women had returned to the city, we may understand how the two disciples from Emmaus were able to depart from Jerusalem without having heard of any appearance of Jesus ( Luk 24:24 ). There had been, therefore, in fact, no other appearances in the morning of this day, except that of the angels to the women and then to Mary Magdalene, and finally that of Jesus to the latter. There is no reason here for making the loud outcry against our narratives which is uttered by criticism ( Keim, III., p. 530).

The repetition of the preposition πρός , to, in John 20:2, leads us to think that the two disciples had different homes, which is natural if John lived with his mother and with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The term ἐφίλει , loved, has something of familiarity in it beyond ἠγάπα ; it is undoubtedly used here because the matter in question is a simple indication of a fact, without any particular emphasis, Jesus Himself being absent.

The imperfect ἤρχοντο , they were coming, repairing, is pictorial; comp. John 4:30. This imperfect of continuance reflects the feeling of inexpressible expectation which caused the hearts of the disciples to beat during the running to the sepulchre.

Verses 1-10

1. Joh 20:1-10 .

The entire first part of this section tends towards the words of John 20:8: “ And he saw and believed. ” After this, the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene makes the latter the messenger who should prepare all the disciples for faith, as she had brought the first two to the sepulchre.

Verses 1-18


Vv. 1-18.

1. The other women who are represented in the Synoptics as going with Mary Magdalene to the sepulchre are not mentioned here, and the appearance to all the women which is spoken of by Matthew, Matthew 28:9-40.28.10, is omitted by John. The former difference between John and the others may be explained, with Weiss, on the ground that John introduces the story only with reference to the message which Mary alone carried to Peter and himself; or it may be explained by supposing, with Luthardt and others, that she hastened in going to the grave more rapidly than the others who had started with her, and thus arrived alone before them. The latter difference may, not improbably, be due to a mingling together in the narrative of Matthew of what happened to the other women (the appearance of the angel, etc.) with what happened to Mary alone (the appearance of Jesus); or there may have been an appearance to the other women on their return from the sepulchre, and after Mary had left them, which was altogether different from the appearance to Mary herself. The sameness of the words represented by Matthew as addressed by Jesus to the women ( Joh 20:10 ), with those addressed to them by the angel ( Joh 20:7 ), may point towards the former supposition as the correct one. In any case, there is no insuperable difficulty in reconciling the different Gospels here. The word οἴδαμεν ( Joh 20:2 ), as Weiss holds, in opposition to Meyer, may fairly be taken as indicating that Mary had others with her at the tomb or as she went towards it.

2. The story of Peter and John, as also that of Mary, bears the evidence of its truthfulness, both in the striking character of its details, which would scarcely have been thought of by a later writer, and its accordance in some of these details with the peculiarities of the persons in question, as presented before us elsewhere. 3. The belief which “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is said to have had in consequence of what he saw in the tomb, is not to be understood as simply a belief in the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead, but in accordance with the use of the verb throughout this Gospel a belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. He attained a belief, at this time and in view of what he saw, which was beyond what he had had before, a belief which included an understanding that He must rise from the dead, and thus that He was, by a new manifestation, proved to be the Divine Logos.

4. The failure of Mary to recognize Jesus at first is to be explained in part, perhaps, by some peculiarity in dress, etc.; but, in part, by the fact that she did not think of His appearance before her alive, and in a bodily form, as a possibility. It is noticeable that Jesus was, in several instances, not immediately recognized by those to whom He appeared.

5. The best explanation of the difficult expression μή μου ἅπτου , with what follows it in John 20:17, is, in the view of the writer of this note, that which takes ἅπτου in the sense of cling to. Jesus bids her not to cling to Him as if He were now to be in a new communion with her and His other disciples, such as He had promised before His death, but to go and tell His disciples that this was to come afterwards, through and after His ascension. This is substantially the view of Godet, and it meets the demands of the words which follow as they are connected with this expression.

6. The story of Mary Magdalene, as here given, bears, in its first part ( Joh 20:1-2 ), wholly towards the faith of the two disciples; in its second part, it is evidently designed to present a proof of the resurrection of Jesus as tending to show that He is the Son of God. Testimony and experience come together, once more, in this place, and the author moves steadily towards the end which he has in view ( Joh 20:30-31 ). The incidents are selected and related, not for their own sake, but with a view to the great purpose of the book. But there is a new stage in the development here, which is evidently beyond what is found in the earlier chapters. The chronological progress, the progress in the testimony and proof, and the progress in faith, are seen to be united throughout the book in a very remarkable way. This union, in itself, bears witness that the whole narrative came from the author's own life and experience.

Verses 1-29


The fourth part of the Gospel has shown us the Jewish people carrying unbelief with reference to Jesus even to complete apostasy, and consummating this spiritual crime by the crucifixion of the Messiah. In the fifth we see the fidelity of the disciples raised to complete faith by the supreme earthly manifestation of the glory of Jesus His resurrection.

The narrative of John pursues its independent path through the somewhat divergent narratives of the Synoptics, and, without any effort, gives us a glimpse of their harmony. In a first section ( Joh 20:1-18 ), the evangelist relates how, in consequence of the report of Mary Magdalene, the two principal apostles attained to faith in the resurrection, and describes the first appearance of Jesus. The second section, John 20:19-43.20.23, relates His appearance in the midst of the Twelve, by means of which He established faith in the apostolic company. The third ( Joh 20:24-29 ) describes the finishing of this work, which remained unfinished after the preceding appearance.

Verses 4-7

Vv. 4-7. “ And they ran both together; and the other disciple ran more quickly than Peter, and he came first to the sepulchre; 5, and, stooping down, he sees the linen cloths lying on the ground;yet he did not enter in. 6. Simon Peter, following him, comes, and he entered into the sepulchre; and he beholds the linen cloths lying on the ground, 7, and the napkin, which had been placed upon his head, not lying with the other linen cloths, but rolled up and lying in a place by itself.

John, being younger and more agile, arrives first. But his emotion is so strong that he timidly stops at the entrance to the sepulchre, after having looked in. Peter, of a more masculine and practical character, resolutely enters. These details are so natural, and so harmonious with the personality of the two disciples, that they bear in themselves the seal of their authenticity. They recall those of ch. 1 The present he sees ( Joh 20:5 ) is contrasted with the aorist came ( Joh 20:4 ); the same contrast occurs again between the verbs he entered and he beholds ( Joh 20:6 ). This difference springs from the contrast between the moment of arrival or of entrance and the continuance of the examination which follows or precedes. The word θεωρεῖ , beholds, unites in one the observation of the fact and the reflection on the fact. These linen cloths spread out did not suggest a removal; for the body would not have been carried away completely naked. The napkin, especially, rolled up and laid aside carefully, attested, not a precipitate removal, but a calm awakening. Here was what might suggest reflection to the two disciples.

Verses 8-10

Vv. 8-10. “ Then entered in also the other disciple who had first come to the sepulchre; and he saw and believed. 9. For they did not yet understand the Scripture which says that he should rise from the dead. 10. Then the disciples returned to their own homes.

The singular verbs he saw and he beliered are remarkable. Until this point two disciples had been spoken of, and in the following verse the story joins them again: They did not understand. These two verbs in the singular, which separate the plural verbs, cannot have been placed here unintentionally: the author evidently wishes to speak of an experience which is peculiar to himself. He cannot testify for the other disciple; but he can do so for himself. This must, indeed, have been one of the most ineffaceable moments of his life. He initiates us into an incomparable personal reminiscence, into the way by which he reached the belief in the resurrection, in the first place, and then, through this, the perfect faith in Christ as Messiah and Son of God. The idea of believing, indeed, does not refer, as some have thought, to the contents of the report of Mary Magdalene: “they have taken Him away.”

This fact was the object of sight, not of faith. By examining the condition of the tomb and the position of the linen cloths, the disciple comes to the conviction that it is Jesus Himself who has done this; consequently, that He is alive. We should have expected that he would make mention at this time of a special appearance of the Lord to His beloved disciple: He did appear, indeed, to Peter and James. But no; everything in the narrative is sober: he saw and believed. There was no need of anything more. Nevertheless, we must not find here an eulogy which John would bestow upon himself and which would resemble a boast. The following verse sufficiently shows the spirit of humility which prevails in this narrative. These words must be paraphrased in this sense: “He saw and believed at length. ” John is himself astonished at the state of ignorance in which he, as well as Peter, had remained until this moment with regard to the scriptural prophecies foretelling the resurrection of the Messiah. He says ἤδεισαν , which is an imperfect in sense: “ They were not understanding. ” Even then they did not yet grasp the meaning of the prophecies announcing the death and resurrection of the Messiah. Only after the resurrection did they open their eyes to these prophetic revelations (Psalms 16:10, Isaiah 53:10, etc.; comp. Luke 24:25-42.24.27; Luk 24:45 ).

As to Peter, we do not know whether the view of the condition of the sepulchre brought him also to faith. John does not say this; for the question here is of an inward personal fact. Perhaps there was needed, in order that this result might be fully secured in the case of Peter, the appearance of the Lord which was granted to this disciple on this same day (Luke 24:34, 1Co 15:5 ).

The parallel, Luke 24:12, is very probably only a gloss drawn up by means of John's narrative. This whole passage, relating to the disciple whom Jesus loved and to Peter, presents one of the most striking features of the autobiographical character of our Gospel.

The Tubingen school, followed by Strauss and Renan, think that this narrative is a fiction designed to raise John to the level of Peter. The author, a disciple of John, systematically endeavored to make his master the equal of Peter. What! By ascribing to him more agile limbs, yet also, on the other hand, less energy and courage! Or by ascribing to him faith of a more spiritual character, in opposition to the carnal character of the Christianity of Peter, and consequently of the Twelve? But John accuses himself also of a carnal want of understanding with regard to the prophecies. All this Machiavellism attributed to the evangelist vanishes away at the simple and unprejudiced reading of this story, which is so simple and so dramatic.

Colani sees in these words of John 20:9: “ They did not yet understand the Scripture,” a contradiction as related to the predictions of the resurrection which are placed in the mouth of Jesus by the Synoptics. If these predictions were real, the evangelist ought rather to have said: “They did not yet understand the predictions of Jesus. ” But if there was needed only the sight of the linen cloths and the napkin to determine the faith in the heart of the disciple, this was certainly due to the promises of Jesus; they had not sufficed to make him believe in the resurrection of the body of Jesus, because he applied them undoubtedly to His glorious return from heaven; but it was they which made this external circumstance sufficient to bring John to faith. John was not obliged to mention this fact, since of the prophecies of Jesus respecting His resurrection he had quoted only the enigmatical saying in John 2:19.

Verses 11-13

Vv. 11-13. “ But Mary was standing near the sepulchre, weeping at the entrance; 12, and, as she wept, she stooped down to look into the sepulchre; and she sees two angels, clothed in white, sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, in the place where the body of Jesus had lain; 13, and they say to her, Woman, why weepest thou? She says to them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

Peter and John withdraw, one of them at least already believing; Mary remains and weeps, and as one does when vainly seeking for a precious object, she looks ever anew at the place where it seems to her that He should be. There is nothing to prevent our taking the present participle καθεζομένους , sitting, in its strictly grammatical sense. She perceives the two angels at the moment of their appearance. This fact does not contradict the earlier appearance of an angel to the women who had first visited the tomb. The angels are not immovable and visible after the manner of stone statues.

Mary answers the question of the celestial visitors as simply as if she had been conversing with human beings, so completely is she preoccupied with a single idea: to recover her Master. Who could have invented this feature of the story? Weiss, without any reason, sees here a reminiscence of the appearance of the angel to the women, which has slipped into the wrong place.

Verses 11-18

2. Vv. 11-18.

Mary Magdalene has just been for the two chief disciples the messenger announcing the empty sepulchre; she receives the first manifestation of the Lord, and becomes for all the messenger of the resurrection.

Verses 14-16

Vv. 14-16. “ After having spoken thus, she turned herself back; and she sees Jesus standing there, but without knowing that it was Jesus. 15. Jesus says to her, Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She, supposing that he was the gardener, says to him: Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. 16. Jesus says to her, Mary! She, turning herself, says to him, in Hebrew, Rabboni, which means, Master.

Mary, after having stooped down into the sepulchre, raises herself and turns about, as if to seek for Him whom she is asking for. Perhaps she heard some noise behind her. The supposition of Mary has been explained by the garment which Jesus wore. But she might easily suppose that the one who was there at that early morning hour and who thus interrogated her was the gardener. And as to garments, workmen were not often clothed except with a girdle ( Joh 21:7 ).

The difficulty of recognizing Jesus arose from two causes; notwithstanding the identity of the body of Jesus, there was wrought a change in His whole person by His passing into a new life; He appeared ἐν ἑτέρᾳ μορφῇ , says Mark ( Mar 16:12 ). His disciples, in seeing Him again, experienced something like what occurs in us when we meet a friend after a long separation; we need more or less length of time in order to recognize him; then, all at once, the simplest manifestation is enough to make the bandage fall from our eyes. But there was also an internal cause. Mary's want of faith in the promises of Jesus caused the idea of His return to life to be absolutely foreign to her present thought.

Jesus, as always, adapts His action to the needs of the soul which suffers and loves. What is most personal in human manifestations is the sound of the voice; it is by this means that Jesus makes Himself known to her. The tone which this name of Mary takes in His mouth expresses all that which she is for Him, all that which He is for her.

It follows from the word στραφεῖσα , having turned about, that she had turned again towards the tomb. For she was agitated, and was searching on one side, then on the other. And now, at the sound of this well-known voice, trembling even to the depths of her soul, she in turn puts all her being into the cry: Master! and throws herself at His feet, seeking to clasp them, as is shown by John 20:17.

Rabbouni, which is found only here and Mark 10:51, is a form of the word Rabban. The א is either the א paragogic or the suffix my. In the second case, it may gradually have lost its signification, which explains why the evangelist does not translate it. The word ἑβραϊστί , in Hebrew, which is read in the most ancient Mjj., is suspicious; it may be defended, however, by recalling to mind how the word rabbouni was strange to the ears of the Greek readers of the Gospel.

Verses 17-18

Vv. 17, 18. “ Jesus says to her: Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father;but go to my brethren and say to them,I ascend to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. 18. Mary Magdalene comes to the disciples and tells them that she has seen the Lord and that he has said these words to her.

As Mary extends her arms towards Him, Jesus seems to put Himself on His guard; what is His thought? Could He fear this touch, which might have something painful in it for Him, either because of His wounds, which were scarcely cicatrized ( Paulus), or by reason of the delicate nature of His body, in a sense freshly born ( Schleiermacher, Olshausen)? As Reuss says, one cites such explanations only as a remembrance. Or might this touching seem contrary to the dignity of His body henceforth made divine ( Chrysostom, Erasmus)? This explanation is incompatible with the invitation which He gives to Thomas to touch Him; comp. also Luke 24:39.

Lucke thought of the use of the verb ἅπτεσθαι in the phrase to touch the knees, for to worship, to supplicate, in Homer. The attempt has even been made to unite these words, in this sense, to what follows: “I am not yet glorified; it is not yet, therefore, the time to worship me.” But ἅπτεσθαι alone never has this meaning, and Jesus accepts a few days afterwards the adoration of Thomas.

It has been supposed ( Meyer, Baumlein) that Jesus wishes to remove a feeling of anxiety from the heart of Mary, who is trying to assure herself of the reality of what she sees. But in that case ψηλαφᾶν would rather be the proper word than ἅπτεσθαι .

Or the meaning to hold back has been given to the word to touch. “Do not stop to hold me as if I were ready to escape thee, but go to my brethren” ( Neander). But with this meaning, it would have been κρατεῖν ( to lay hold of). This reason excludes also the explanation of Baur: “Do not hold me: for it is necessary that I ascend to my Father, to whom I have not yet returned.”

The ἅπτεσθαι , the touching, which Jesus forbids is not that of anxiety, but that of joy (2 Corinthians 6:17, Col 2:21 ): “Clasp not my feet; I have not come to renew the old earthly relations. The true seeing again which I have promised you is not this. To return in a real and permanent way, it must be that I shall have first ascended. That time has not yet come.” Or, as Steinmeyer says, “it is, indeed, rather for leave-taking that I have come.” The disciples imagined that the death of Jesus was the return to the Father of which He had spoken to them, and His reappearance ( Joh 13:1 ) seemed to them the beginning of His permanent abiding vith them. They confounded His death with the ascension, and the promised return with the Parousia. But Jesus declares to them by this message of Mary that He is not yet ascended, and that it is only now that He is going to ascend. Instead of enjoying this moment of possession, therefore, as if Jesus were really restored to her, Mary must rise and go to tell the disciples what is taking place. Jesus does not say ἀνέβην (the aorist), but ἀναβέβηκα (the perfect); He denies that He is already in the state of one who has done the act of ascending and who can contract with His own the higher relation in which they will possess Him again.

But go ” is opposed to the act of staying to enjoy. The message with which Jesus charges her for His disciples consequently signifies: “I am not yet in my state of glory; but as soon as I shall be in it, I will give you a share in it, and then nothing shall any longer interpose between you and me.” Hence the expressions: “ my brethren ” and “ my Father and your Father. ” There is here a foretaste, as it were, of the future communion. These terms set forth the indissoluble solidarity which will unite them to Him in the glorious state into which He now enters. He had not until now called them His brethren; the same expression is found again in Matthew 28:10. It contains more than Weiss thinks, when he sees in it only the idea that His exaltation will not alter His fraternal relation to them. No more do I think that Jesus wishes to bring out thereby the community of action which will unite them ( Steinmeyer, Keil). He calls them His brethren as sharing in the divine adoption which He has acquired for them; they will enjoy with Him filial communion with God Himself. The words: “ my Father and your Father,” are the explanation of it. On this expression: my brethren, comp. Romans 8:29.

In the name of Father there is filial intimacy; in that of God, complete dependence, and this for the disciples as for Jesus Himself.

But within this equality so glorious for the believers, there remains an ineffaceable difference. Jesus does not and cannot say our Father, our God, because God is not their Father, their God, in the same sense in which He is His Father and His God.

The present ἀναβαίνω , I ascend, has been variously explained: either as designating the certain and near fact, like the presents: I go to the Father ( ὑπάγω , πορεύομαι ) in the previous discourses, or as going so far as even to identify the day of the resurrection with that of the ascension ( Baur, Keim); whence a contradiction between John and the Synoptics. The first sense is impossible; for the opposition: “I am not yet ascended,...but I ascend,” forces us to give to the present its strict meaning. The second is not any more admissible, since this appearance has no characteristic which distinguishes it from the following ones, which would necessarily be the case if the ascension, the complete glorification, separated them. The: I ascend, must designate thus a present elevation of position which is not yet the ascension. We cannot, whatever Weiss may say, escape the idea of a progressive exaltation during the days which separated the resurrection from the ascension an exaltation to which the gradual transformation of the body of Jesus, which appears clearly from everything that follows, corresponds. On the one hand, He is no longer with the disciples, living with them the earthly existence ( Luk 24:44 ); on the other, He is also not yet in the state of glorification with the Father. It is a state of bodily and spiritual transition exactly denoted by the word I ascend.

By this message Jesus desires to raise the eyes of Mary and of His disciples from the imperfect joy of this momentary seeing Him again, which is only a means, to the expectation of the permanent spiritual communion, which is the end, but which must be preceded by His return to the Father (John 14:12; John 14:19, John 16:7; Joh 16:16 ). This warning applies to all the visits which shall follow, and is designed to comfort His followers for the sudden disappearances which shall put an end to them.

The present, she comes ( Joh 20:18 ), expresses in all its vividness the surprise produced in the disciples by this arrival and this message.

We have said that the appearance to the women related by Matthew ( Mat 28:9-10 ) seems to us to be identical with that which John has just described with more detail. And indeed it is enough to convince us of this, if we compare the words: “Touch me not,” and, “Go, and say to my brethren,” with these:

They held him by the feet,” and: “ Go, and say to my brethren. ” Some modern critics, also identifying the two scenes, have supposed that John's narrative is rather a poetic amplification of the short story of Matthew, formed by means of those of Mark and Luke. But how is it not seen that the story of Matthew is a vague traditional summary, while John's description reproduces the real scene in all its primitive freshness and distinctness?

Verses 19-20

Vv. 19, 20. “ The evening having come, therefore, on this same first day of the week, the doors of the place where the disciples were being shut because of the fear which they had of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and says to them, Peace be to you! 20. And, after he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.The disciples therefore rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

The plural θυρῶν ( the doors) denotes a two-leaved door. The words: “ because of the fear,” refer to the fact of the closing which is mentioned again in John 20:26, but without the explanation here given.

It has been thought that this external fact was designed only to characterize the moral state of the disciples (Lucke), and that, on the arrival of Jesus, the gates were quite naturally opened ( Schleiermacher). Strauss, on the other hand, is so indignant at this explanation, that he goes even so far as to declare that a real hardening of mind against the meaning of the gospel text is necessary in order to maintain it. Calvin and de Pressense suppose that the doors opened miraculously of themselves (comp. Act 12:10 ).

But the term ἔστη , he stood, indicates less an entrance than a sudden appearance, and in John 20:26, where the fact of the doors being closed is mentioned again, it is put in connection, not with the fear of the apostles, but with the mode of the appearance itself. I think, therefore, with Weiss, Keil, etc., that the sudden presence of Jesus in the midst of the disciples cannot be explained except by the fact that the body of Jesus was already subjected to the power of the spirit. In truth, this body was still that which had served Him as an organ during His life ( Joh 20:20 ); but, as already before His death this body obeyed the force of the will ( Joh 6:16-21 ), so now, through the transformation of the resurrection, it had approached still nearer to the condition of the glorified and spiritual body ( 1Co 15:44 ). The expression ἔστη is found again in the narrative of Luke ( Luk 24:37 ); there it is in evident connection with the feeling of terror which the disciples at first experience and with the supposition that it is a spirit; for He was present when no one had seen Him enter. With this manner of appearing His sudden disappearances correspond (Luke 24:31: ἄφαντος ἐγένετο ).

The salutation of Jesus is the same in Luke and in John: Peace be to you! Weiss sees here only the ordinary Jewish salutation; but why, in that case, repeat it twice ( Joh 20:21 )? Evidently Jesus makes this formula the vehicle of a new and more elevated thought. he invites His disciples to open their heart to the peace of reconciliation which He brings to them in rising from the dead. “ Having come,” says Paul ( Eph 2:17 ), “ he preached peace.John 20:20. The words: And having said this, establish a relation between the wish of Joh 20:19 and the act related in John 20:20. To convince them of the reality of His appearance was to give them the proof of the divine good-will which restored to them their Master, to change their terror into peace and even into joy. The fact that He does not show them His feet cannot prove anything in favor of the opinion that on the cross the feet had not been nailed. The pierced hands and side were enough to prove His identity. Besides, it follows from Luk 24:40 that this detail has merely been omitted by John.

Verses 19-23

II. The First Appearance to the Disciples: John 20:19-43.20.23 .

The risen Lord advances by degrees in His manifestation of Himself. The appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, prepared for by that of the angels, prepares in its turn, by the message entrusted to Mary for the disciples, for His appearance in the midst of them. Two particular manifestations of the Risen One took place before this one in the course of that day the appearance to the two disciples of Emmaus and that which was granted to Peter (Luke 24:13-42.24.32; Luke 24:34, Mar 16:12-13 ). That in the evening to all the disciples, which is described in what follows, is evidently identical with that which Luke (Luke 24:36 ff.) and Mark ( Mar 16:14 ) relate. This appearance had as its essential aim to establish in them faith in the resurrection, and thereby to strengthen their faith in Him; it was to serve also as a preparation for their apostolic mission.

Verses 19-29

Vv. 19-29.

1. The appearance of Jesus when the doors were shut (John 20:19; Joh 20:26 ) is a point which we are unable to explain. The evangelist has not stated the facts of the case with sufficient definiteness to make any conclusion absolutely certain. That Jesus had a body after His resurrection, which could be touched, and which bore the marks of the nails; that He could eat and walk, and could speak with the same voice as before His death; that He was seen and known to be the same person whom the disciples had been familiar with in their past association with Him, is evident from all the Gospel narratives. That, on the other hand, He appeared and disappeared at will, as He had not done before His death; that He was not recognized with the same immediateness, apparently, as He had been; that He even passed some hours with the disciples who were going to Emmaus, without any recognition on their part, seems equally clear. The mystery of His ascension may also be borne in mind in its relation to this question.

In the consideration of the particular words found in these verses (John 20:19; Joh 20:26 ), two points are worthy of notice: first, that we have no indication in other passages of any such thing as passing through the wood of closed doors a thing which, in itself, would seem to be in the highest degree improbable; and, secondly, that we find the fact somewhat prominently suggested that, during the forty days, Jesus made Himself visible or invisible at will. May not these points, when taken together, indicate that Jesus here did not enter, at the time mentioned, into the room where the disciples were, but simply appeared to their view within it; that He appeared now as He disappeared at the close of His meeting with the disciples from Emmaus?

2. In Joh 20:21-23 Jesus renews to the disciples their commission, or assures them again that they have it, and then bestows upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit. With respect to this gift it may be observed: ( a) that it is, according to the natural interpretation of the words, an actual gift; ( b) that the distinction made by some writers between πνεῦμα ἅγιον and τὸ πνεῦμα ἅγιον can hardly be sustained, and the words must here designate the Holy Spirit in the same sense in which the latter phrase is used (comp. John 7:39, Joh 16:13 ); ( c) that the full gift of the Spirit seems to be placed in this Gospel, as in the Acts, after the glorification of Jesus. From these three considerations it follows that the gift here referred to was of the same nature, but not of the same measure, with that of the Day of Pentecost. It was, as Meyer remarks, an actual ἀπαρχή of the Holy Spirit.

3. The power of remitting and retaining sins which is spoken of in Joh 20:23 is not something bestowed as a mere official prerogative on the disciples, so that their mere word and will accomplish the end. Jesus Himself exercised forgiveness only on the conditions of faith and repentance, and in accordance with the will of the Father. The whole teaching of the New Testament shows that the apostles could, at the most, only pronounce the man who believed forgiven, and, as they did not possess omniscience, this pronouncing could not go beyond the point of declaring that the man was forgiven, provided he had the faith required. It was under the guidance and in accordance with the mind of the Spirit that they were to exercise this power, but not in any such sense that forgiveness depended on them or was to be determined by them alone.

4. The exclamation of Thomas, in John 20:28, is the final declaration of the faith of the apostles as given in this Gospel. Immediately after the record of it the writer closes his book. That this is a declaration of belief in the Divinity of Christ is proved by the words εἶπεν αὐτῷ , by which it is introduced these words show that it is not a mere exclamation of surprise or astonishment; by the fact that ὁ κύριός μου is most naturally used as referring to Jesus (see John 13:13, Joh 20:13 ); by the connection of these words with John 20:30-43.20.31; by the whole progress of faith and testimony in this Gospel, as leading up to the end. If it is such a declaration, the 29th verse shows that it was accepted by Jesus. At such a moment indeed, at any moment, but especially at such a moment, when He was soon to send forth the apostles on their great mission in the world, in which they were to proclaim His message and even to expose themselves to the danger of death in His cause

He could not have allowed them to remain under a delusion and to believe Him to be Divine when He was not. He could not have pronounced a solemn benediction on all who believed what He knew to be untrue. These words of Thomas, therefore, together with those of Jesus which follow, become a fitting climax of the whole book, both with respect to the testimony of Jesus to Himself and the answering faith of His immediate disciples.

Verses 21-23

Vv. 21-23. “ Jesus therefore said to them again, Peace be to you! As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. 22. And, having said this, he breathed on them and says to them, Receive [the] Holy Spirit. 23. Whosesoever sins you remit, they are remitted to them; whosesoever sins you retain, they are retained.

It is no longer only as to believers that Jesus desires to give them peace; it is in view of their future vocation. Peace is the foundation of the apostleship; hence the repetition of the prayer: Peace be to you! This message of reconciliation, which Jesus brings to them, they will have the task of preaching to the world ( 2Co 5:20 ). Jesus first confers on them the office (John 20:21 b); then He communicates to them the gift, in the measure in which He can do so in His present position ( Joh 20:22 ); finally, He reveals to them the wonderful greatness of this task ( Joh 20:23 ).

There is properly only one mission from heaven to earth: it is that of Jesus. He is the apostle ( Heb 3:1 ). That of the disciples is included in His, and will finally realize it for the world. Hence it comes to pass that Jesus, when speaking of Himself, employs the more official term ἀπέσταλκε : it is an embassy; while, in passing to them, He uses the more simple term πέμπω : it is a sending.

Verse 22

Ver. 22. The endowment in view of this sending. As there is properly only one mission, there is also only one force for fulfilling it that of Jesus, which He communicates through His Spirit.

The words: Having said this, serve, like John 20:20, to connect the following act with the preceding words. There are two extreme opinions as to the value of the act described in this verse. According to Baur, Hilgenfeld and Keim, the evangelist transfers to this day Pentecost as well as the ascension ( Joh 20:17 ). But the: I ascend of Joh 20:17 could not have been accomplished in the course of this day; for Joh 20:20 proves that Jesus did not yet have His glorified body. But it is from the Father that He is to send the Spirit (John 7:39, Joh 16:7 ). Moreover, the absence of the article before πνεῦμα ἅγιον , Holy Spirit, shows that the question here is not yet of the sending of the Paraclete promised in chs. 14-16. Hence others Chrysostom, Grotius, Tholuck have concluded that there was a purely symbolic act here, a sensible pledge of the future sending of the Spirit. But this sense is incompatible with the imperative λάβετε , receive! You shall receive would be necessary. This expression implies a present communication. The question here is neither of a simple promise nor of the full outpouring of the Spirit. Raised Himself to a stage of higher life, Jesus raises them, as far as He can do so, to His new position. He associates them in His state as raised from the dead, just as later, through Pentecost, He will make them participate in His state as one glorified. He communicates to them the peace of adoption and the understanding of the Scriptures ( Luk 24:45 ); He puts their will in unison with His own, that they may be prepared for the common work ( Joh 20:21 ).

Some commentators Reuss, for example see here an allusion to Genesis 2:7: “ The Lord breathed into the nostrils (of man) a breath of life. ” But the thought of Jesus seems to me to refer rather to the future than to the past. This preparatory communication will necessarily make them understand, when the wind of the Spirit shall blow, that this wind is nothing else than the personal breath of their invisible Master.

Verse 23

Ver. 23. The new work which is intrusted to them is here displayed in all its greatness; the matter in question is nothing less than giving or refusing salvation to every human being; to open and close heaven this is their task. The old covenant had a provisional pardon and a revocable rejection. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the world enters into the domain of unchangeable realities. This power of pardoning sins ( Mat 9:6 ) or of retaining them (John 9:41; John 15:22; Joh 15:24 ), which the Son of man had exercised, will be theirs for the future by virtue of His Spirit who will accompany them.

The expressions which Jesus employs indicate more than an offer of pardon or a threatening of condemnation, more even than a declaration of salvation or of perdition by means of the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus speaks of a word which is accompanied by efficacy, either for taking away the guilt from the guilty or for binding it eternally to his person. He who is truly the organ of the Spirit ( Joh 20:21 ) does not merely say: “Thou art saved” he saves by his word or “Thou art condemned” he really condemns, and this because, at the moment when he pronounces these words by means of the Spirit, God ratifies them. The present ἀφίενται (literally, are pardoned) indicates a present effect; God pardons these sins at the very moment. The perfect ἀφέωνται , which some Mjj. read, would signify: “are and remain pardoned.” This perfect was probably introduced for the sake of the symmetry of the clause with the following ( κεκράτηνται ). The copyists did not understand that in the first there is a question of a present momentary fact, the passage from the state of condemnation to the state of grace, while the second relates to a state which continues, the condemnation established forever.

The order of the two propositions indicates that the first of the two results is the true aim of the mission, and that the second does not come to its realization except in the cases where the first has failed.

It does not seem to me that anything gives us the right to see here a special power conferred on the apostles as such. The question is not of right, but of force. It is the πνεῦμα which is its principle. I do not see any reason, therefore, to apply this prerogative to the apostles alone, as Keil would have it. The disciples of Joh 20:18-19 are certainly all believers taken together; the two from Emmaus were present, and many others, not apostles, with them, according to Luke 24:33. And why should the gift of the Spirit be restricted to the apostles? They certainly have a special authority. But the forces of the Spirit are common to all believers. Weiss supposes that the prerogative here conferred by Jesus is no other than that of distinguishing between venial sins and mortal sins ( 1Jn 5:16 ). But this application is much too special and foreign to the context. Besides, the similar promise made to Peter, Matthew 16:19, had already been extended, in a certain measure, to the whole Church, Matthew 18:18.

Verses 24-25

Vv. 24, 25. “ But Thomas, one of the Twelve, he who was called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. 25. The other disciples therefore said to him, We have seen the Lord; but he said to them: Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

On δίδυμος , twin, see John 11:16. We have learned to know Thomas through Joh 11:16 and John 14:5; the impression produced on him by the death of his Master must have been that of the most profound discouragement: “I told Him so;” this is what he, no doubt, repeated to himself. His absence on the first day could not be without relation to this bitter feeling. This is confirmed by the manner in which he receives the testimony of his brethren. There is tenacity even in the form of his words, and especially in the repetition of the same terms. Here is what makes us doubt about the reading τόπον , the place, instead of the second τύπον , the print. This reading, adopted by Tischendorf, Weiss, Keil, etc., is not only feebly supported, but it takes away from the denial of the disciple this marked character of obstinacy. On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the second τύπος may easily have been substituted for τόπος under the influence of the preceding one. If Thomas does not speak of Jesus' feet, it is ridiculous to conclude from this fact, with some interpreters, that the feet had not been nailed.

Verses 24-29

III. The Second Appearance to the Disciples (Thomas): John 20:24-43.20.29 .

A last principle of unbelief still remained in the circle of the Twelve. It is extirpated, and the development of faith reaches its limit in all the future witnesses for Christ.

Verses 26-27

Vv. 26, 27. “ Eight days afterwards, his disciples were assembled again in the room; and Thomas was with them. Jesus comes, the doors being shut, and he stood in the midst of them, and said: Peace be to you! 27. Then he says to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and see my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side, and become not unbelieving, butbelieving.

Jesus had bidden the disciples, through the women, to return to Galilee (Matthew 28:7, Mar 16:7 ). How does it happen that they were still in Judea eight days after the resurrection? Are we not allowed to suppose that what detained them was the fear of abandoning Thomas and of losing him, if they left him behind in the condition of mind in which he was?

In His salutation Jesus includes this disciple also; it is even to him that He specially addresses it; for he is the only one who does not yet enjoy the peace which faith gives.

The almost literal reproduction of the rash words of Thomas is designed to make him blush at the grossness of such a demand. It may be supposed, with Weiss, that the term βάλλειν εἰς , to put into, means simply to stretch out the hand under the garment of Jesus, in order to touch the scar.

By the expression: Become not, Jesus makes him feel in what a critical position he actually is, at this point where the two routes separate: that of decided unbelief and that of perfect faith. A single point of truth, a single fact of the history of salvation, which one obstinately refuses to accept, may become the starting-point for complete unbelief, as also the victory gained over unbelief, with regard to this single point, may lead to perfect faith.

Verses 28-29

Vv. 28, 29. “ Thomas answered and said to him, My Lord and my God! 29. Jesus says to him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed. Blessed are they who, without having seen, have believed.

What produces so profound an impression upon Thomas is not only the reality of the resurrection, which he touches with his hands, it is also the omniscience of the Lord, which the latter proves by repeating to him, just as they were, the words which he thought he had uttered in His absence. This scene recalls that of Nathanael (ch. 1). Just as in the case of the latter, the light shines suddenly, with an irresistible brightness, even into the depths of the soul of Thomas; and by one of those frequent reactions in the moral life, he rises by a single bound from the lowest degree of faith to the highest, and proclaims the divinity of his Master in a more categorical expression than all those which had ever come forth from the lips of any of his fellow-apostles. The last becomes in a moment the first, and the faith of the apostles attains at length, in the person of Thomas, to the whole height of the divine reality formulated in the first words of the Prologue. It is in vain that Theodore of Mopsuestia, the Socinians and others have wished to apply to God, not to Jesus, Thomas' cry of adoration, by making it either an expression of praise, or an exclamation in honor of God. It should not be, in that case, εἶπεν αὐτῷ , “He said to Him; ” besides, the term my Lord can only refer to Jesus. The monotheism of Thomas is made an objection. But it is precisely because this disciple understands that he bears towards Jesus henceforth a feeling which passes beyond what can be accorded to a creature, that he is forced, even by his monotheism, to place this being in the heart of Deity.

The repetition of the article and that of the pronoun μου give to these words a peculiar solemnity ( Weiss).

Verse 29

Ver. 29. In itself, this address of the disciple would not have a decisive value. It might be an exaggeration of feeling. But what gives it an absolute importance is the manner in which Jesus receives it. The Lord does not check this outbreak of feeling, like the angel of the Apocalypse, who says to John:

Worship God! ” He answers, on the contrary: “ Thou hast believed,” and thus accepts the expression by which Thomas has proclaimed His divinity. In an article by Lien (May, 1869), it is objected that this approving answer of Jesus may refer not to the expression: My God, but to the belief of Thomas in the fact of the resurrection. But if Jesus had approved of the exclamation of the disciple only in part, He would have found the means of removing the alloy, while preserving the pure gold.

The perfect πεπίστευκας , thou hast believed, signifies: “Thou art henceforth in possession of faith.” This verb might also be taken in an interrogative sense. For Meyer observes, not without reason, that there is in the words: because thou hast seen, a shade of reproach which accords well with this sense.

In the last words Jesus points out the entirely new character of the era which is beginning, that of a faith which should be contented with testimony, without claiming to be founded on sight, as that of Thomas had done.

This saying closes the history of the development of faith in the apostles, and gives a glimpse of the new phase which is about to begin that of the faith of the Church resting upon the apostolic testimony. Baur thinks that Jesus here opposes to faith in external facts that which has its contents only in itself, in the idea of which the believer is henceforth fully conscious. But Joh 20:30-31 express a thought directly opposite to this. So Baur has declared them to be interpolated, without the least proof. The contrast which Jesus points out is altogether different: it is that of a carnal faith, which in order to accept a miracle wishes absolutely to see it, and a faith of a moral nature, which accepts the divine fact on the foundation of a testimony which is worthy of confidence. It was granted to Thomas to be saved on the former path; but from this time forward it will be necessary to content oneself with the second. Otherwise faith would be no longer possible in the world except on condition of miracles renewed unceasingly and celestial appearances repeating themselves for every individual. This is not to be the course of the divine work on earth.

The aorist participle ἰδόντες , properly: who shall have seen, indicates an anterior act with relation to faith, and the aorist participle πιστεύσαντες , who have believed, is spoken from the standpoint of the development of the Church regarded as consummated.

This answer of Jesus to Thomas is the normal close of the fourth Gospel. It indicates the limit of development of the apostolic faith, and the starting-point of the new era which is to succeed it on the earth. The apostolic faith, as it has just risen to the full height of its object, will be able henceforth to re-echo throughout the world by means of the testimony of the chosen messengers, so as incessantly to reproduce itself.

On the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Strauss has said, in speaking of the resurrection of Jesus: “Here is the decisive point, where the naturalistic view must retract all its previous assertions or succeed in explaining the belief in the resurrection without bringing in a miraculous fact.” And Strauss is right. The question here is of a miracle sui generis, of the miracle properly so called. The usual expedients for explaining the miracles of Jesus, “the hidden forces of spontaneity,” the mysterious influence exerted upon the nerves “by the contact of an exquisite person” all this has no longer any application here; for no other human being co-operated in the resurrection of Jesus, if it took place. If Jesus really came forth alive from the tomb after His crucifixion, there is nothing left but to say with St. Peter: GOD has raised up Jesus.

It is said: Such a fact would overthrow the laws of nature. But what if it were, on the contrary, the law of nature, when thoroughly understood, which required this fact? Death is the wages of sin. If Jesus lived here below as innocent and pure, if He lived in God and of God, as He Himself says in John 6:57, life must be the crown of this unique conqueror. No doubt He may have given Himself up voluntarily to death to fulfil the law which condemns sinful humanity; but might not this stroke of death, affecting a nature perfectly sound, morally and physically, meet in it exceptional forces capable of reacting victoriously against all the powers of dissolution? As necessarily as a life of sin ends in death, so necessarily does perfect holiness end in life, and consequently, if there has been death, in the resurrection. Natural law, therefore, far from being contrary to this fact, is the thing which requires it.

But if this fact is rational, when once the perfect holiness of Jesus is admitted, is it possible? To deny that it is, would be to affirm an irreducible dualism between being and virtue. It would be to deny monotheism. The divine will is the basis of being, and the essence of this will is to move towards the good. In creating being it has therefore reserved to itself the means of realizing the good in all the forms of existence and of causing the absolute sovereignty of holiness to be triumphant in the being. This is all that we can determine a priori from the theistic standpoint. “Every historian,” says Strauss, “should possess philosophy enough to be able to deny the miracle here as well as elsewhere.” Every true historian, we will answer, should have philosophy enough, above all, to let the word yield to the facts, here as elsewhere.

Let us, in the first place, study the four, or rather the five, narratives of the appearances of the Risen One.

I. The Narratives.

John mentions three appearances of Jesus (to Mary Magdalene, the Twelve, Thomas), all three in Judea and in the week which followed the resurrection.

Is this to say that the author did not know of a larger number? The twenty-first chapter, which proceeds from him directly or indirectly, proves the contrary. For this chapter mentions a new one which took place in Galilee. That to Thomas closes the Gospel properly so called, for the reasons which belong to the plan and aim of the work (see on Joh 20:28-29 ).

Matthew relates two appearances: that to the women in Judea, which seems to be only a generalized double of the appearance to Mary Magdalene (in John), and that to the Eleven on the mountain where He had appointed for them a meeting-place. It was in the latter that Christ made known to the apostles His elevation to the Messianic royalty, to the sovereignty over all things. This is the reason why it closes the first Gospel, which is designed to demonstrate the Messianic dignity of Jesus, and in the view of the author serves to sum up all the others. This took place in Galilee, like that of the twenty-first chapter of John.

If we set aside the unauthentic end of Mark, we find in this Gospel only the promise of an appearance to the believers in Galilee. We are ignorant of what the true conclusion of this work must have contained. What we now possess, composed from John and Luke, mentions the appearance to Mary Magdalene (John) and those to the two from Emmaus and to the disciples on the evening of the day of the resurrection (Luke).

Luke mentions three appearances: that on the road to Emmaus, that to Peter, that to the disciples on the evening of the first day; all three in Judea and on the very day of the resurrection. It would be difficult to believe that he did not know of others, since he had labored for the evangelization of the Gentile world with St. Paul, who, as we are about to see, mentions several others. Luke himself, in Acts 1:3, speaks of forty days during which Jesus showed Himself alive to the apostles. He simply desired, therefore, to report the first appearances which served to establish in the hearts of the apostles the belief in the fact of the resurrection.

As for Paul, he enumerates in 1 Corinthians 15:3 ff., as facts appertaining to the apostolic tradition which he has himself received, first the appearances to Peter and to the Twelve which immediately followed the resurrection; then a later appearance to more than five hundred brethren, some of whom he himself knew personally; moreover, two appearances, one to James, the other to all the apostles. Finally, to these five he adds that which was granted to himself on the road to Damascus.

We are already acquainted with the first two, one from Luke, the other from Luke and John. The third surprises us, since it is not related in any of the four gospels. But it is probably identical with that of which Matthew speaks, which took place on the mountain of Galilee, whither Jesus had summoned all His followers from before His death (Matthew 26:32, Mar 14:28 ), though in Matthew He addresses only the Eleven in order to call them to their mission to the whole world. The fourth (James), mentioned by Paul alone, is confirmed by the conversion of the four brothers of Jesus ( Act 1:14 ). The fifth (all the apostles) is evidently that of the ascension, the word all alluding not to James, as has been thought, but rather to Thomas, who had been absent at the time of the first appearance to the Eleven. If mention is not made of the first two appearances in John and Luke, those to Mary Magdalene and the two from Emmaus, it is because they have a private character, Mary and the two disciples not belonging to the circle of the official witnesses chosen by Jesus to declare publicly what concerned Him.

Notwithstanding the diversity of these accounts, it is not difficult to reconstruct by their means the whole course of things. There are ten appearances known:

1. That to Mary, in the morning, at the sepulchre (John and Matthew);

2. That to the two from Emmaus, in the afternoon of the first day (Luke and Mark);

3. That to Peter, a little later, but on the same day (Luke and Paul);

4. That to the Eleven (without Thomas), in the evening of this first day (John, Luke, Mark);

5. That to Thomas, eight days afterwards (John);

6. That to the seven disciples, on the shore of the sea of Galilee (John

7. That to the five hundred believers, on the mountain of Galilee (Matthew, Paul);

8. That to James (Paul);

9. That of the ascension (Luke, Paul). Finally, to complete the whole: 10. That to Paul, some years afterwards, on the road to Damascus.

Evidently no one had kept an exact protocol of what occurred in the days which followed the resurrection. Each evangelist has drawn from the treasure of the common recollections what was within his reach, and reproduced what best answered the purpose of his writing. They did not dream of the future critics; simplicity is the daughter of good faith. But what is striking in this apparent disorder is the remarkable moral gradation in the succession of these appearances. In the first ones, Jesus consoles; He is in the presence of broken hearts (Mary, the two from Emmaus, Peter). In the following ones (the Twelve, Thomas), He labors, above all, to establish faith in the great fact which has just been accomplished. In the last ones, He more particularly directs the eyes of His followers towards the future by preparing them for the great work of their mission. It is thus, indeed, that He must have spoken and acted, if He really acted and spoke as risen from the dead.

II. The Fact.

What really occurred, which gave occasion to the narratives which we have just studied?

According to the contemporary Jews, whose assertion was reproduced in the second century by Celsus and in the eighteenth by the author of the Wolfenbuttel Fragments, the answer is: nothing at all. This whole history of the resurrection of Jesus is only a fable, the fruit of a premeditated deception on the part of the apostles. They had themselves put the body of Jesus out of the way, and then proclaimed His resurrection.

To this explanation we cannot reply better than by saying, with Strauss: “Without the faith of the apostles in the resurrection of Jesus, the Church would never have been born.” After the death of their Master the apostles were too much disheartened to invent such a fiction, and it was from the conviction of His resurrection that they drew the triumphant faith which was the soul of their ministry. The existence of the Church which has religiously renewed the world is explained with yet greater difficulty by a falsehood than by a miracle.

Others, Strauss at their head, answer: Something occurred, but something purely internal and subjective. The apostles were, not impostors, but dupes of their own imagination. They sincerely believed that they saw the appearances which they have related. On the day of Jesus' death, or the next day, they fled to Galilee; and, on finding themselves again in the places where they had lived with Him, they imagined that they saw and heard Him again; these hallucinations were continued during some weeks, and here is what gave rise to the narratives of the appearances.

But, 1. From this point of view, the first scenes of the appearances of Jesus must be placed in Galilee, not in Jerusalem, as is the case in all the narratives, even in that which may be called the most decidedly Galilean that of Matthew ( Mat 28:1-10 ).

2. According to all the accounts, and even according to the calumny against the disciples invented by the Jews, the body of Jesus, after the descent from the cross, was left in the hands of the Lord's friends. Now, in the presence of the dead body, all the hallucinations must have vanished. We shall thus be brought back to the first explanation, which makes the disciples impostors an explanation which Strauss himself declares impossible. If it is said: The Jews got possession of the body and carried it off, they worked in this case against themselves and for the success of the falsehood which they ascribed to the apostles. And why not bring into broad daylight this point tending to prove criminality instead of confining themselves to accusing the disciples of having put Him out of the way?

3. The hallucinations which are supposed are incompatible with the state of mind of the disciples at this time. The believers so little expected the resurrection of Jesus that it was for the purpose of embalming His body that the women repaired to the sepulchre. If they still had a hope, by reason of the promises which the Lord had made to them before His death, it was that of His return from heaven, whither they believed that He had gone. “Remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom,” said the thief on the cross. And this, indeed, was undoubtedly what the disciples from Emmaus meant when they said, Luke 24:21: “Already it is the third day since these things came to pass.” The restoration to life of His body broken on the cross was not dreamed of by any one. What those hoped for who hoped for anything was a Parousia, not a resurrection properly so called. And this also is what they think that they behold at the first moment, when Jesus appears to them; they take Him for a pure spirit returning from heaven. How in such a condition of mind could they have been themselves the creators of the appearances of the Risen One?

4. And what if these appearances consisted only in a luminous figure, an ethereal form floating in the distance, seen between heaven and earth, and soon vanishing in the sky? But it is a person who approaches, who asks them to touch him, who converses with them, who blames them for seeing in him only a spirit, who speaks in a definite way and joins acts with his words (“He breathed on them, saying: Receive ye the Holy Spirit”), who gives positive orders (to assemble on a mountain, to baptize the nations, to tarry in Jerusalem), who has friendly conversations with some of them (the two from Emmaus, Thomas, Peter); hallucination does not comport with such features. We must always come back to the supposition of fiction and falsehood. As to a legendary formation, it cannot be thought of here, since Paul, even during the lifetime of the witnesses, alludes to all these accounts.

5. That a nervous person has hallucinations is a fact often noticed; but that a second person shares these illusions is a thing unexampled. Now this phenomenon takes place simultaneously not in two, but in eleven, and soon even in five hundred persons ( 1Co 15:6 ). The hallucinated Camisards of Cevennes are cited, it is true. But the noises which they heard in the air, the rolling of drums, the singing of psalms, do not in any respect resemble the definite communications which the Lord had with those to whom He appeared and the distinct sight of His person and His features. And if all this were only visions beheld simultaneously by so large a number of persons, it would be necessary to imagine the whole company of the believers raised to such a strange and morbid degree of exaltation that it would become absolutely incompatible with the calm self-possession, the admirable clearness of mind, the practical energy of will, which every one is forced to admire in the founders of the Church.

6. But the most insoluble difficulty for the partisans of this hypothesis is that which Keim has better set forth than any one else

I mean the sudden ending of the appearances. At the end of a few weeks, after eight or nine visions so precise that Paul counts them, as it were, on his fingers on a certain marked day, that of the ascension, all is over. The visions cease as suddenly as they came; the five hundred who were exalted have returned, as if by enchantment, to cold blood. The Lord, ever living to their faith, has disappeared from their imagination. Although far inferior in intensity, the Montanist exaltation endured for a full half century. Here, at the end of six weeks, the cessation is complete, absolutely ended. In the presence of this fact, it becomes evident that an external cause presided over these extraordinary manifestations, and that, when the cause ceased to act, the phenomenon came to its end. We are thus brought to seek for the historical fact which forms the basis of the narratives that we are studying.

I. Some modern writers ( Paulus, Schleiermacher, and others) think that the death of Jesus was only apparent, and that after a long swoon He came to Himself again under the influence of the aromatics and the cool air of the sepulchre. Some Essenic friends also perhaps aided Him with their care. He appeared again, accordingly, among His followers like one risen from the dead; such is the foundation of the accounts of the appearances which we read in our gospels. Strauss has refuted this hypothesis better than any one else. How, after so cruel a punishment as that of the cross, could Jesus, having been restored by purely natural means, move with perfect ease, go on foot to a distance of some leagues from Jerusalem, and also return to that city the same afternoon; how could He be present without any one seeing His entrance; and disappear without any one noticing His departure? How, above all, could a person who was half dead, who was with difficulty dragged out of his tomb, whose feeble vital breath could not, in any case, have been preserved except by means of care and considerate measures, have produced on the apostles the triumphant impression of a conqueror of death, of the prince of life, and by the sight of Himself have transformed their sadness into enthusiasm, their disheartenment into adoration? And then, finally, in the interval between these visits, what became of this moribund person? Where did He conceal Himself? And how did He bring to an end this strange kind of life in which He was obliged to conceal Himself even from His friends? The critics would persuade us that He died in a Phoenician inn, sparing His disciples the knowledge of this sad ending; must also be added: leaving them to believe in His triumph over death, and boldly to preach His resurrection! This is imposture transferred from the disciples to the Master Himself. Does it become thereby more admissible?

II. The opinion which, without denying the miracle, approaches most nearly to the preceding, is that of Reuss and de Pressense . There was in the case of Jesus a real return to life, but in exactly the same body which had previously served Him as an organ. In fact, this body still bears the prints of the nails and of the spear-thrust. De Pressense adds, in proof of this explanation, that Jesus, after the walk to Emmaus, did not reach Jerusalem till a certain time after His two travelling companions, since He did not go to the company of the disciples in the upper chamber until after the arrival of the latter. He will allow us to attach no great importance to this argument. Why could there not have been an interval between the time of His return and that of His appearance in the chamber where the disciples were assembled? Is it not clear that the Lord's body, although identical in some respects with His previous body, underwent by means of the miraculous fact of the resurrection a profound transformation of nature, and that from that time it lived and acted in entirely new conditions? It appears and disappears in a sudden manner, it obeys the will so far as to become visible in an apartment the doors of which had not opened, it is not recognized by those in whose midst Jesus had passed His life. All this does not allow us to believe that the resurrection consisted for Jesus, as it did for the dead whom He had Himself raised to life, only in a return to the life in His former body. They had returned into their former sphere of infirmity and death; Jesus entered within the higher sphere of incorruptibility.

III. Weiss puts forth an entirely opposite opinion. According to him, the resurrection was the complete glorification of the Lord's body, which from this time became the spiritual body of which St. Paul speaks, 1 Corinthians 15:44-46.15.49. But how are we to explain in that case the sensible appearances of Jesus? For there is no relation between such a body and our earthly senses. It only remains to hold, with Weiss, an act of condescension by which the Risen One appropriated to Himself, at certain moments, a sensible form, which He afterwards laid aside. But this material form was not an envelopment of some sort; it bore the traces of the wounds which had been inflicted upon it on the cross. Was there only an appearance here, a sort of disguise? This is impossible. Or, if these visible prints were real, how could they belong to the spiritual body? Moreover, if we take into account the words of the Lord to Mary: “I am not yet ascended, but I ascend to my Father and your Father,” it is impossible to mistake the difference between the resurrection and the complete glorification of the Lord. We see from this declaration that the resurrection is indeed the entrance into a higher state, but that this state is not yet perfect. There remains a place for a last divine act, the ascension, which will introduce Him into His state of final glory.

IV. There is only a shade of difference between the theory of Weiss and Sabatier (set forth in the Christianisme au XIX sie:cle, April, 1880). According to the latter there was no return to life for the body put to death on the cross; the real fact was the reappearance of the Lord with an entirely new body, the spiritual body of which St. Paul speaks. The material elements of the body in which Jesus had lived here on earth are returned to the earth.

At the foundation, what Sabatier thus teaches is nothing else than what the disciples expected, a Parousia, Jesus glorified returning from the other life, but not a resurrection. And yet it is a fact that the reality did not correspond to the expectation of the disciples, but that it went completely beyond it. They went to embalm; they tried to find where the body had been laid; and it was this body which was alive!

Then how can we explain otherwise than by a resurrection the tomb found empty? We have seen that the two suppositions of a removal by the disciples or by the Jews are equally impossible. The return of the material elements to the earth must have been effected by the hands of some agent. Could Jesus have been the digger of His own grave? Besides, how could Jesus, with a purely spiritual body, have said to the disciples: “Touch me,” show them His wounds, ask them for food, and this to the end of convincing them of the material reality of the body which He had?

Sabatier answers that these details are found only in Luke and John, who present to us the appearances under a form materialized by legend, while the normal tradition is still found in Matthew and Mark, and besides in Paul (1 Corinthians 15:0). In Matthew? But he relates that the women laid hold of the feet of Jesus; the feet of a spiritual body? In Mark? But we do not have the conclusion of Mark's narrative. In Paul? But he enumerates five appearances, some of which are identical with those of Luke, and he thus confirms the accounts of the latter. Is it probable, moreover, that Luke, St Paul's companion in preaching, had on this fundamental point of the resurrection of the Lord a different view from the apostle? And what does Paul himself desire to prove in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians? That we shall receive a new body without any organic relation to our present body? On the contrary, he emphasizes in every way the close bond of union between these two successive organs of our personality. It is this mortal which will put on immortality, this corruptible which will put on incorruption. Only the corruptible elements of flesh and blood will be excluded from this transformation, which, according to Philippians 3:21, will make of the body of our humiliation a body of glory like the present body of the Lord. For a resurrection Sabatier substitutes a creation. By breaking every bond between the present body and the future body, he does away with the victory of the Lord over death, and consequently over sin and condemnation, and thus, while thinking only to treat of a secondary point, does violence to the essence of the Christian redemption.

V. The strangest means of escaping from the notion of a corporeal resurrection and yet attributing some objectivity to the appearances of the Lord was imagined by Weisse, and then adopted and developed by Keim. The appearances of Jesus risen from the dead were spiritual manifestations of Jesus glorified to the minds of His disciples. Their reality belonged only to the inner world; they were nevertheless positive historical facts. But the disappearance of the body of Jesus remains still unexplained, as in most of the preceding hypotheses. And what a strange way of acting is that of a being, pure spirit, who, appearing to the mind of His followers, should take so much pains to prove to them that He is indeed flesh and bones, and not pure spirit! And how should the apostles, who were so little expecting a bodily resurrection, have come to substitute for purely spiritual revelations gross material facts?

After having exhausted all these so different explanations, we return to the thought which naturally comes forth from the words of the Lord: “ I am not yet ascended, but I ascend. ” The interval between the resurrection and the ascension of the Lord was a period of transition. He had indeed recovered His former body, but, through the change which was made in His personal position, this body was subjected to new conditions of existence. It was not yet the spiritual body, but the spirit disposed of it more freely; it was already the docile organ of the will. Thus are the opposite phenomena explained which characterize the manifestations of the Lord in this period of His existence; in particular, the sudden appearances and disappearances. Objection is made because of this fact: that the Lord ate. There would be reason in this objection if He ate for hunger, but this act was not the result of a need. He wished to show that He could eat that is to say, that His body was real, that He was not a pure spirit or a phantom. The ascension consummated what the resurrection had begun.

There are three miracles in the development of nature: 1. The appearance of matter; 2. The appearance of life in matter; 3. The appearance of the conscious and free will in the domain of life. There are three decisive miracles in the history of the Lord: 1. His coming in the flesh, or His entrance into material existence; 2. The realization of life, of holy communion with God in this corporeal existence; 3. The elevation of this life to the liberty of the divine life by the resurrection and ascension.

Verses 30-31

The Conclusion: 20:30, 31.

In concluding his narrative, the evangelist gives an account of the manner in which he has proceeded ( Joh 20:30 ) and of the end which he proposed to himself ( Joh 20:31 ) in composing it.

How are we to explain this so sudden ending, after the conversation of Jesus and Thomas? The narrative contained in the appendix, ch. 21, shows clearly that the author was not at the end of the materials which he possessed. It is not to be doubted, therefore, that this ending is in close and essential connection with the design which has governed the whole narrative, with the idea itself of the book. If the author wished to trace out the development of the faith of the disciples and of his own, the birth of this faith must be the starting-point of the narrative this is indeed the case; comp. John 1:19 ff. and the consummation of this faith must be the end of it. This consummation we find in the exclamation of Thomas.

We need not be astonished, therefore, at not finding in such a gospel the account of the ascension, any more than we have found in it that of the baptism of Jesus. Both the one and the other of these events are situated outside of the limits which the author had drawn for himself. And we see how destitute of foundation are the consequences which an ill-advised criticism has drawn from this silence, to contest both the faith of the author in these events, and the reality of these facts themselves. If John believes in the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the preceding chapter leaves no doubt in this regard and if he cannot have thought that the body of the Risen One was subjected again to death, there remains but one possibility: it is that he attributed to Him, as the mode of departure, the ascension, as the apostolic Church in general accepted it. This is proved, moreover, by the words which he puts into the mouth of Jesus, Joh 6:62 and John 20:17. It would be proved, if need were, by his very silence, which excludes every other supposition.

Vv. 30, 31. “ Jesus therefore did many miracles, other than these, in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. 31. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you may have life in his name.

The μέν prepares the way for the following contrast. The apostle desires to set forth clearly the fact that his thought was not to trace out the complete picture of all that he has seen and heard, for the contrary supposition would end in rendering suspicious the facts related in other writings and not mentioned by him, which is far from his thought. He has made, among the multitude of facts included in the history of Jesus, a choice appropriate to the end which he proposed to himself. In the face of this declaration of the author, how can serious critics reason thus: John omits, therefore he denies or is ignorant of, for example, the story of the miraculous birth, the temptation, the healings of lepers or demoniacs, the transfiguration, the institution of the Lord's Supper, Gethsemane, the ascension, etc.!

According to some interpreters, from Chrysostom to Baur, the words: the signs which Jesus did, designate only the appearances related in this chapter, as signs or proofs of the resurrection; from which it would follow that these verses, John 20:30-43.20.31, are the conclusion, not of the gospel, but only of the narrative of the resurrection. This opinion is incompatible: 1, with the term ποιεῖν , to do: one does not do appearances; 2, with the two expressions many and others: the appearances were neither so numerous nor so different; 3, the expression in this book shows that the question is of the entire work, and not only of one of its parts.

The signs of which John means to speak are essentially the miracles, but not as separate from the teachings, “which are almost always the commentary on them” ( Weiss).

By the terms: in the presence of His disciples, John makes prominent the part appointed for the Twelve in the foundation of the Church. They were the accredited witnesses of the works of Jesus, chosen to accompany Him, not only for the development of their personal faith, but also with a view to the establishment of faith in the whole world; comp. Joh 15:27 and Acts 1:21-44.1.22. Whatever Luthardt, Weiss and Keil may say, it seems to me difficult not to see in the position of the pronoun τούτῳ , after the substantive βιβλίῳ : “this book,” a tacit contrast to other writings containing the things omitted in this. This expression, thus understood, accords with all the proofs which we have met of the knowledge which John already had of the Synoptics. The apostle therefore confirms by these words the contents of these gospels, which were earlier than his own, and tells us that he has labored to complete them.

And what end did he propose to himself in writing a history of Jesus under these conditions? Joh 20:31 answers this question. He wished to bring his readers to the same faith by which he was himself filled. He consequently selected from the life of his Master the facts and testimonies which had the most effectually contributed to form and strengthen his own faith. From this selection it is that the Gospel of John originated.

In saying you, the apostle addresses himself to certain definite Christians, but persons who, as Luthardt says, represent for him the whole Church. They believe already, no doubt; but faith must ever advance, and at every step, as we have seen, the previous faith appears as not yet deserving the name of faith (see Joh 2:11 and elsewhere).

John characterizes Jesus, the object of faith, in such a way as to indicate the two phases which had constituted the development of his own faith: first, the Christ; then, the Son of God.

The first of these terms recalls to mind the accomplishment of the prophecies and of the theocratic hope. It was in this character that the faith of the disciples had at first welcomed Him (John 1:42; Joh 1:46 ). The solemnity with which this notion of Messiah is called to mind in this verse, the summary of faith, absolutely sets aside the idea of a tendency opposed to Judaism in the author of the fourth Gospel. But the recognition of the Messiah in Jesus had been only the first step in the apostolic faith. From this point John and his associates were soon raised to a higher conception of the dignity of Him in whom they had believed. In this Messiah they had recognized the Son of God. The first title referred to His office; this one refers to His person itself. It is especially since the fifth chapter of our Gospel that this new light finds its way into the souls of the disciples, under the sway of the declarations of Jesus. It has reached its perfection in the words of Thomas: My Lord and my God, which have just closed the Gospel.

If these two terms had the same meaning, the second would here be only a mere tautology. The first refers to the relation of Jesus to Israel and to men, the second to His personal relation to God.

If John proposed to make his readers sharers in his faith, it is because he has learned by his own experience that this faith produces life: that, believing, you may have life. To receive Jesus as the Son of God is to open one's heart to the fulness of the divine life with which he is himself filled; human existence is thus filled with blessedness and strength in communion with God. The words in His name depend, not on believing, but on the expression have life. This name is the perfect revelation which Jesus has given of Himself, by manifesting Himself as Christ and as Son of God.

Either, therefore, the author who speaks thus of the design of his book deceives us, or he did not write in the interest of speculation. He aims, not at knowledge, but at faith, and through faith at life. He is not a philosopher, but a witness; his work as a historian forms a part of his apostolic ministry. In all times, those who have not seen will be able through his testimony to reach the same faith and the same life as himself. We are thus enlightened as to the method and the spirit of his book.


Vv. 30, 31. This passage is evidently the conclusion of the Gospel as it was originally written, and it sets forth the purpose which the author had in view. We may notice in connection with these verses the following points:

( a) The writer evidently shows that he prepares his book on a principle of selection (many others are not written, but these are written); ( b) The selections which he makes are made with a view to the proving of some truth or doctrine or fact ( σημεῖα ); ( c) The proofs are those which were given in the presence of the disciples they depend for their force, therefore, in a special sense, upon the experience and personal witness-bearing of these disciples; ( d) The disciples are those whose first meeting with Jesus is recorded in the first chapter, and their companions in the apostolic company and the personal friends of Jesus; ( e) The doctrine or truth or fact to be proved is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; ( f) This statement, when interpreted as it must be by the Prologue, from which the entire development of the proof begins, must mean that He is the Logos made flesh; ( g) The object in view in giving this proof and establishing this doctrine is that the readers may believe what the writer evidently believes; ( h) The final purpose is that, through thus believing, the readers may have life that is, that eternal life of which the book speaks.

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Bibliographical Information
Godet, Frédéric Louis. "Commentary on John 20". "Godet's Commentary on Selected Books".