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Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NT

John 20

Verses 1-99

The Sepulchre Found Empty by Mary Magdalene, and by Peter and John (20:1-10)

1. τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων … πρωΐ, σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης. Mark 16:2 says in like manner, λίαν πρωῒ τῆς μιᾶς σαββάτων. For πρωΐ, see on 18:28. Luke 24:1 and Matthew 28:1 agree in mentioning “the first day of the week, “and in describing the visit to the tomb as being made in the half-light just before dawn.

Jn. names Mary Magdalene only as visiting the tomb, but the plur. οἴδαμεν of v. 2 suggests that she was not alone, and that her perplexity as to how the Lord’s body had been disposed of was shared by others. It is unlikely that a woman would have ventured by herself outside the city walls before daylight, and the Synoptists agree in telling that she was accompanied by others. Mark 16:1 names as her companions Mary the mother of James (i.e. the wife of Clopas; see on 2:12) and Salome, the Virgin’s sister, who were also present at the Crucifixion with her (19:25). Matthew 28:1 only names “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.” Luke 24:10 mentions “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women.” Pseudo-Peter (§ 11) also notes that Mary Magdalene was accompanied by other women.

Jn. does not say what the purpose of this visit to the tomb was; and in this he is in agreement with Matthew 28:1, where it is merely told that they went “to see the sepulchre.” But Mark 16:1 and Luke 23:56, Luke 24:1 explain that the purpose of the women was to anoint the body of Jesus. In Jn.’s narrative (see 19:39) the body was hastily laid in spices on the Day of Crucifixion by Joseph and Nicodemus, but there was no time for any anointing then, or final disposition of the body. Nothing further could be done on the Sabbath, and the women came as early as possible the next morning, with the spices and unguents that they had provided for themselves (Mark 16:1, Luke 23:56).1


We hold that Mary Magdalene is the same person as Mary of Bethany (see Additional Note on 12:1-8); and her desire to anoint the body of her Master is thus significant in connexion with His words to her when she anointed His feet at Bethany (12:7). She had kept the ointment “against the day of His burying.” Jn., however, does not introduce this point expressly. He narrates Mary’s visit to the tomb briefly, because what he is anxious to describe is the subsequent visit of Peter and the Beloved Disciple, which was suggested by her report.

Both Mk. and Lk. agree with Jn. in the statement that Mary (and the other women) found the stone taken away from the tomb. For τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου, see on 11:38, 39.

According to the Johannine narrative, Mary does not suspect as yet that anything out of the ordinary course of nature has happened. She sees that the stone which sealed the sepulchre has been removed, and (seemingly) she looks in to assure herself that the tomb is empty2 (v. 2); but her inference is only that the body has been removed to some other resting-place.

2. τρέχει οὖν κτλ. The haste with which the women ran back from the tomb is mentioned also Mark 16:8, Matthew 28:8.

ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον. Peter was still, despite his denial of Jesus, reckoned as the leader, or at any rate as one of the leaders, of the disciples; and so it is naturally to him that the surprising news of the tomb being empty is carried first. He has not been mentioned since 18:27; and so on his reappearance in the narrative, Jn., according to his habit (see on 18:15), gives his full name Simon Peter. The names of the disciples to whom the women brought the news are not specified in Matthew 28:8; but cf. Luke 24:12.


καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητήν κτλ. As Bengel observes, the repetition of πρός indicates that Peter and “the other disciple” were not lodging in the same house. The women had to visit them separately. Cf. πρὸς αὑτούς of v. 10, and see 19:27.

ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς. See 13:23, and cf. 21:17. This association of Peter and the “Beloved Disciple” is significant, in view of the identification of the Beloved Disciple with John, the son of Zebedee. See Introd., pp. xxxiv ff.

῏Ηραν τὸν κύριον κτλ., “they have taken away the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” The subject of ἦραν is indefinite; Mary and her companions did not know who they were. For the designation of Jesus as “the Lord,” see the note on 4:1.

The plur. οἴδαμεν, as has been noted on v. 1, suggests that Mary was speaking for her companions as well as for herself.

3. Peter takes the lead, more suo. ἐξῆλθεν οὗν ὁ Πέτρος καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητής. For the singular verb ἐξῆλθεν, see Matthew 28:1.


καὶ ἤρχοντο κτλ., “and they set out for the tomb.”

In the Musée du Luxembourg at Paris there is a remarkable picture by E. Burnand of Peter and his young companion hastening to the sepulchre, which will repay examination.

4. ἔτρεχον δέ κτλ., “So they began to run, the two together, and the other disciple ran on in front more quickly than Peter.” προτρέχειν occurs again in N.T. only at Luke 19:4. Cf. 1 Macc. 16:21.


καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος κτλ. The Beloved Disciple was probably the younger man of the two.

5. καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια. This sentence invites comparison with the parallel passage Luke 24:12 in the rec. text, viz.: ὁ δέ Πέτρος�John 20:10,�

The verse Luke 24:12 is found in אABLΓΔΘ, the old and the Pesh. Syriac, and in c f ff2, a strong combination. It is omitted in D a b e l r ful etc., and on that account Westcott-Hort place it in double brackets, treating it as a “Western non-interpolation.” They regard it as “condensed and simplified” from John 20:5-9, θαυμάζων τὸ γεγονός being added to the Johannine account. Yet Hort’s view of what he calls “Western non-interpolations” is not universally accepted;1 and, in this instance, it is hard to believe that a scribe would be bold enough to alter so materially a statement made in the Fourth Gospel after it had received general acceptance,2 and thus to omit all mention of the Beloved Disciple as Peter’s companion. On the contrary, the evidence for Luke 24:12 being part of the original text of Lk. is too strong to be set aside by the authority of D, an admittedly eccentric manuscript; and the true inference from the verbal similarities between Luke 24:12 and John 20:5 seems to be that Jn., here as often elsewhere (see Introd., p. xcix), is using Lk.’s words for the purpose of correcting him. It was not Peter, he says, who peeped into the tomb and saw the linen wrappings lying on the ground, but it was the Beloved Disciple, who had arrived at the tomb before Peter did. He retains the words of Lk. so as to make it clear that he is dealing with the same incident, but he corrects the narrative of Lk. in so far as Peter is represented as being alone. Thus “he went home” in Luke 24:12 becomes “the disciples went home” in John 20:10.


The difference between Lk. and Jn. is that between a man who is reproducing a generally accepted tradition, and that of an author relying on and reproducing what he has been told by an eye-witness of, and a participator in, the events narrated. Lk., indeed, implies at 24:24 that he had heard that more than one disciple had gone to the tomb to verify the women’s report that it was empty; but there is no reason to think that he alludes there to the visit of Peter and John. Pseudo-Peter says there were many visitors to the sepulchre.

παρακύψας βλέπει. παρακύπτειν, in its primary and etymological meaning, would suggest “to stoop down for the purpose of looking.”3 But in this sense the verb is seldom used, and in the LXX it always means “to peep” through a door or a window (cf. Genesis 26:8, Judges 5:28, 1 Kings 6:4, 1 Chronicles 15:29, Proverbs 7:6, Song of Solomon 2:9, Ecclus. 14:23, 21:23), without any stooping being implied4 Cf. also James 1:25, 1 Peter 1:12. Nor does the word imply an earnest or searching gaze.5 The Beloved Disciple “peeped in and saw” is the rendering which best gives the sense.


κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια (see on 19:40 for ὀθόνια). The participle κείμενα is put first for emphasis. What startled the disciple was that he saw the grave-cloths lying on the ground. If the body had been removed to some other resting-place, as Mary had suggested, it would presumably have been removed as it had been originally prepared for burial. The cloths would also have disappeared.1

οὐ μέντοι (for μέντοι, see on 12:42) εἰσῆλθεν. That the first disciple to note the presence of the grave-cloths in the tomb did not actually go into it first is not a matter that would seem worth noting, to any one except the man who himself refrained from entering. This strongly suggests that we are dealing with the narrative of an eye-witness. As to why John (for we believe the disciple to have been John) waited for Peter to go in first, we do not know. He may have been afraid, or overcome with emotion. Peter was a man of coarser fibre, more hasty, and more ready to put himself forward. That may be the whole explanation.

6. Peter’s part in what happened is now resumed, and so he is given his full name Σίμων Πέτρος (cf. v. 2, and see on 18:15). He did not hesitate, but entered the tomb at once.

καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, “and notices (he did not merely glance in: see on 2:23, 9:8 for θεωρεῖν) the linen cloths lying.” In the parallel passage, Luke 24:12, we have βλέπει τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα μόνα. Jn. leaves out μόνα, but explains carefully in v. 7 what it means in this context.


7. τὸ σουδάριον. See on 11:44. The napkin for the head was not lying with the grave-cloths for the body.

ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον. ἐντυλίσσειν is a rare verb, not found in the LXX; and in the parallels Matthew 27:59, Luke 23:53 (not again in N.T.) it is used of wrapping the body of Jesus in a cloth, ἐνετύλιξεν αὐτὸ σινδόνι. Here it is the head-covering itself or “napkin” that is “rolled up.” Latham believes that the language in vv. 6, 7 implies that the body had withdrawn from the grave-cloths, the swathes, and the turban-like napkin; the body-cloths being thus not scattered about, but lying flat, and the napkin, retaining the shape into which it had been wound (so as to cover the head), lying where the head had been. This is reverently and suggestively worked out in The Risen Master (pp. 39, 89); but it cannot be regarded as certain.


Milligan (s.v. ἐντυλίσσω) cites a remarkable verbal parallel from a third-century magical papyrus, ἐντύλισσε τὰ φύλλα ἐν σουδαρίῳ καινῷ.

8. τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν κτλ. Peter may have told John what he saw; at any rate, John no longer refrained from entering the tomb, “and he saw and believed” (εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν). He had no vision of the Risen Christ, but the sight of the abandoned grave-cloths was sufficient to assure him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Jn. (16:16) and the Synoptists (Mark 8:31, Mark 8:9:9, Mark 8:31, Mark 8:10:34 with parallels) agree in telling that Jesus had, on one occasion or another, assured the disciples that He would rise from the grave, and that they would see Him again. They had not understood or appreciated what He meant. But when John, the Beloved Disciple, saw the grave-cloths and the napkin in the tomb, the meaning of the strange predictions to which he had listened came to him with a flash of insight. “He saw and believed.” This was a moment in his inner life, which was so charged with consequence, that he could never forget it, and the incident is recorded here as explaining how and when it was that he reached the fulness of Christian faith. That he “believed” without “seeing” his Risen Lord was in marked contrast to the attitude of Thomas, to whom it was said, “Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29).

ἐπίστευσεν. Syr. sin. has “they believed,” and 69, 124 give ἐπίστευσαν, a mistaken correction due to a desire to include Peter as also “believing.” For, although Peter “believed,” it seems to have been after the Risen Christ had appeared to him (Luke 24:34, 1 Corinthians 15:5), and not after his first glance at the tomb. He went away, according to Luke 24:12, “wondering at that which was come to pass.”


Dsupp has the eccentric reading οὐκ ἐπίστευσεν, the scribe being misled by the words which follow.

For πιστεύειν used absolutely, without the object of belief being specified, see on 1:7.

9. οὐδέπω (cf. 19:41) γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφήν. γάρ is often used by Jn. to introduce a comment on incidents or words which have been recorded (cf. e.g. 3:16 and 5:21). Here γάρ does not introduce the reason for, or explanation of, the faith of John. Its meaning is, “You must remember that,” etc. Jn. is thinking of his readers, who may be surprised that Peter and the Beloved Disciple were not more quick to recognise what had happened. “You must remember that they did not yet know (i.e. understand) the scripture which had foretold the Resurrection of Christ.”

ᾔδεισαν is used as in Mark 12:24 μὴ εἰδότες τὰς γραφάς, “not appreciating the meaning of the scriptures.”

The γραφή, or particular passage of Scripture in the evangelist’s mind, was probably Psalms 16:10 (see on 2:22).


ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν�

10.�Luke 24:12 describes Peter as bewildered rather than troubled, while John 20:8 records that the Beloved Disciple’s faith in the Risen Christ was already assured.


προς αὑτούς, i.e. chez eux, “to their lodgings.” John had brought the Virgin Mother εἰς τὰ ἴδια (19:27), and nothing could be more probable than that he should bring the wonderful news to her without any delay, as it is here recorded that he did.

πρὸς αὑτούς is used in a similar way by Josephus (Antt. viii. iv. 6), πρὸς αὑτοὺς …�

All four Gospels agree in telling of an angelic appearance to the women at the tomb, but there are discrepancies in the various accounts. In Mark 16:5 the women “entering into the tomb, saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe”; in Matthew 28:2f. the women (apparently) see an angel descending from heaven who rolls away the stone from the tomb and sits upon it As in Mk., he tells the women that Jesus is risen, and has gone into Galilee. In Luke 24:4, after the women have entered the tomb and found it empty, “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel,” who remind them that when Jesus “was yet in Galilee” He had predicted that He would rise on the third day. The Marcan saying about the risen Lord having gone to Galilee is thus altered by Lk., who mentions no Galilæan appearance, and follows a Jerusalem tradition. It is noteworthy that “two men in white apparel” are mentioned again by Lk. in Acts 1:10, as appearing to the apostles at the Ascension. In Jn. we have “two angels in white,” who only ask Mary why she is weeping. They do not give any message or counsel, for Jesus Himself is immediately seen by Mary.

It was a common belief that angels or celestial visitants were clad in white. Cf. Daniel 10:5 εἶς ἐνδεδυμένος βύσσινα, and Ezekiel 9:2; Revelation 15:6 ἄγγελοι… ἐνδεδυμένοι λίνον καθαρὸν καὶ λαμπρόν. In Enoch lxxxvii. 2 mention is made of beings coming forth from heaven “who were like white men.” Mk. and Mt. only mention one angel, but Lk. and Jn. mention two. The appearance of a pair of angels seems to be a not unusual feature of what were believed to be heavenly visitations; e.g. in 2 Macc. 3:26 two young men appeared to Heliodorus, “splendid in their apparel” (διαπρεπεῖς τὴν περιβολήν). So, too, in the Apocalypse of Peter (§ 3) two men suddenly appeared, καὶ φωτεινὸν ἦν αὐτῶν ὅλον τὸ ἔνδυμα. The development of legend is well illustrated by the fanciful narrative which is found in the Gospel of Peter of the appearances at the sepulchre. First (§ 9) the soldiers saw “three men coming out of the tomb, two of them supporting the other,” i.e. two angels supporting Christ. Then (§ 10) the heavens are opened and “a man descended and entered the sepulchre”; and (§ 11) when Mary and her companions look into the tomb “they see there a young man sitting in the midst of the tomb, fair and clothed with an exceeding bright robe,” who speaks to them as in Mk.


That Mary reported having seen and addressed two persons at the tomb, whom the evangelist calls “angels,” is all that is involved in the Johannine narrative. Lk. also tells of two men, but Mk. of one man only. What really happened is not possible now to determine. That the women saw some person or persons at the tomb can hardly be doubted; and that they were heavenly or angelic visitants was evidently the belief of Mt. and, probably also, of Lk. and Jn. Latham supposes them to have been members of the Essene sect who were accustomed to wear white clothing, or “young men of the priestly school.”1 But there is no sufficient evidence of this.

ἕνα πρὸς τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ ἕνα πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν. Wetstein observes that as the body of Jesus had hung between two thieves on the Cross, so the place where His body had lain was guarded between two angels; and he recalls the cherubim on the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:22, 1 Samuel 4:4, Psalms 80:1, etc.). But there is no evidence of such thoughts being those of the evangelist


13. καὶ (א a b d f g sah om. καί) λέγουσιν κτλ. All they say is “Woman, why are you weeping?” There is nothing in the Johannine narrative of any counsel given by the watchers at the tomb, or (except the use of the word “angels”) any hint that they were not ordinary men. In the other Gospels, the women are represented as being terrified when addressed by the angels at the tomb; but in Jn. Mary shows no fear, nor does she indicate by her demeanour that she has seen anything unusual. She answers her questioners quite simply, by telling them why she is in grief. The story, so far, has nothing of the miraculous about it; and it probably represents a tradition more primitive than that of the other Gospels, in that it may go back to Mary herself

For γύναι as a mode of address, see on 2:4.

῏Ηραν τὸν κύριον κτλ., repeated from v. 2 with the significant addition of μοῦ after κύριον.

οὐκ οἶδα, not οἴδαμεν as in v. 2, for the other women were not with Mary on this, her second, visit to the tomb.

14. ταῦτα εἰποῦσα κτλ. So אABDNWΘ, but the rec. prefixes καί. The absence of connecting particles in vv. 14-18 is noteworthy.

For εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω cf. 6:66, 18:6. Mary turned round, perhaps being half-conscious (as often happens) that some one was behind her.

καὶ θεωρεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἑστῶτα, “and notices Jesus standing.” The two watchers in the tomb had been seated. θεωρεῖν (cf. v. 12, and see on 2:23) is the verb used in the promise to the disciples ὑμεῖς θεωρεῖτέ με (14:19). Such “seeing” would be impossible for unbelievers; it was a vision possible only for faith.

καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστίν. She did not recognise Him. A similar thing in like words is told of the disciples on the lake (21:4); and of the two on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:16). The Marcan Appendix says of this latter incident that He was “manifested in another form” (ἐν ἑτέρᾳ μορφῇ, Mark 16:12). Cf. Matthew 28:17, where “some doubted.” See further on 21:4.

This appearance of the Risen Lord to Mary is not mentioned by Lk., but the Marcan Appendix (Mark 16:9) agrees with the Fourth Gospel in mentioning it as the first manifestation of Jesus after His Resurrection. Cf. Matthew 28:9, Matthew 28:10.

An essential difference between the Gospel stories of visions of the Risen Lord, and the stories widespread in all countries and in all times of visions of departed friends after death, is that all the Gospels lay stress on the empty tomb.1 It was the actual body that had been buried which was revivified, although (as it seems) transfigured, and, so to speak, spiritualised. This must be borne in mind when the evangelical narratives of the Risen Jesus speaking, and eating (Luke 24:43; cf. John 21:13, John 21:15), and being touched (Luke 24:39, and perhaps John 20:27) as well as seen, are examined critically. Such statements are difficult of credence, for no parallel cases are reported in ordinary human experience; but they must be taken in connexion with the repeated affirmations of the Gospels that the tomb of Jesus was empty, and that it was His Body and not only His Spirit which was manifested to the disciples. See also on v. 20.


The question has been asked, how did the evangelists believe the Risen Lord to have been clothed, not only when Mary saw Him in the garden, but when He manifested Himself to the assembled disciples (vv. 19, 26)? It is difficult to suppose (with Tholuck and others) that He appeared only in the loin-cloth in which He had been crucified and buried. His appearances after death were more intense, indeed, than the appearances of dead men to their friends (for which there is some evidence); but just as in the latter case the eye of love clothes the vision in familiar garments, so it may have been in the more objective and more significant manifestations of the risen body of Jesus.

15. λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς. אBLW om. the rec. ὁ before Ἰησοῦς (see on 1:29, 50).

Γύναι, τί κλαίεισ; This is a repetition of the question put to Mary (v. 13) by the watchers at the tomb. In like manner, in Matthew 28:7, Matthew 28:10 the message given by the angel to the women is repeated by the risen Jesus, when they see Him. But, whether this be only a coincidence or no, in the Johannine story Jesus adds τίνα ξητεῖσ; He knew whom she was seeking, and what was the cause of her grief, whereas there is nothing in vv. 11-13 to show that the watchers at the tomb understood her tears, or knew that she was a disciple of Jesus.


Mary does not recognise Jesus at once, nor do His first words tell her who He was. She thinks He may be the gardener, probably because at so early an hour the gardener was the most likely person to be met in the garden (see 19:41). It is plain, however, that she does not find anything abnormal in the appearance or dress or voice of Him who speaks to her.

ὁ κηπουρός. The word does not occur again in the Greek Bible, but is common in the papyri (see Milligan s.v.).1

Κύριε (an ordinary title of respect), εἰ σὺ ἐβάστασας αὐτόν. “Sir, if you have stolen Him away.” Her mind is so full of her quest, that she does not answer the question “For whom are you looking?” She assumes that every one must know who it is For βαστάζειν in the sense of “to steal,” see on 12:6.

εἰπέ μοι ποῦ ἔθηκας αὐτόν κτλ., “tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” She does not stay to consider if she would have strength by herself to remove the body to a fitting resting-place.

16. λέγει αὐτῂ͂ Ἰησοῦς. Here (see on v. 15) BD om ὁ before Ἰησοῦς, but ins. אANWΓΔ.

Μαριάμ So אBNW 1 33; but the rec., with ADΓΔΘ, has Μαρία. See on 19:25 for the spelling of the name.

Apparently Mary had turned her face away from Jesus towards the tomb, taking no interest in the gardener who gave her no help in her quest; for when she hears her name, she turns round again (στραφεῖσα) in amazement. Who is this that calls her “Mary”? The personal name, addressed to her directly, in well remembered tones, reveals to her in a flash who the speaker is.

λέγει αὐτῷ Ἑβραϊστί. So אBDNWΘ, although the rec., with AΓ, om. Ἑβραϊστί. Mary addresses Jesus in the Aramaic dialect which they were accustomed to use. See on 5:2 for Ἑβραϊστί.

Ρ̓αββουνεί (ὃ λέγεται Διδάσκαλε). The form Rabboni, “my Teacher,” is found in N.T. here only and at Mark 10:51, but it is hardly distinguishable in meaning from Rabbi, the pronominal affix having no special force.1 Jn. interprets it here for his Greek readers, as he interprets “Rabbi” (see on 1:38). It will be remembered that Martha and Mary were accustomed to speak of Jesus as the Rabbi ὁ διδάσκαλος (see 11:28), when talking to each other

An interpretative gloss is added here by אcaΘ and fam. 13, viz. καὶ προσέδραμεν ἅψασθαι αὐτοῦ, which appears also in Syr. sin. in the form “and she ran forward unto Him that she might draw near to (or to touch) Him.” So also the Jerusalem Syriac. The gloss “et occurrit ut tangeret eum” is found in several Latin texts with Irish affinities; e.g. in the Book of Armagh, the Egerton MS. (mm), Cant., Stowe, and Rawl. G. 167. The idea behind the gloss is probably that Mary approached to clasp the Lord’s feet in respect and homage; cf. Matthew 28:9 where it is said of the women that “they took hold of His feet, and worshipped Him.”

17. This verse must be compared with Matthew 28:9, Matthew 28:10 where, again, the Risen Lord is seen by Mary Magdalene and speaks to her and her companion. In that passage the women, returning from the tomb to tell the disciples of the angel’s message, are at once in fear and joy. Jesus greets them by saying Χαίρετε. They clasp His feet in worship. He then tells them not to fear, Μή φοβεῖσθε, and adds ὐπάγετε�John 20:17, Matthew 28:10) is Jesus represented as speaking of His disciples as “my brethren”. Cf. Hebrews 2:11, Hebrews 2:12 (quoting Psalms 22:22).

It is likely that the account in Matthew 28:9, Matthew 28:10 of the appearance of Jesus to the Maries was based on the lost conclusion of Mk.; for Matthew 28:1-8 is plainly an amplified version of the simpler Mark 16:1-8. The phrase “tell to my brethren” was probably in Mk.’s story, and we have already seen that Jn. knew Mk.,1 whose narrative he corrects, when he thinks it necessary. In this instance, the message sent to the disciples is not, as in Mk. and Mt., that they should go to Galilee, where they would see their Risen Master. Jn. represents the message quite differently. It is: “Say to them, I go up to my Father.”


This expression�

The term “Ascension” for us indicates the climax of the earthly life of Christ, but�Luke 24:51 has�Ephesians 4:8, which is a quotation from Psalms 68:18, but Paul does not use the verb again of the ascending Christ. In Acts 2:34 we have οὐ γὰρ Δαβὶδ�John 6:62 (see note, in loc.) and the present passage. Barnabas (§ 15) employs the verb thus, and so does Justin (Tryph. 38); but Justin also uses�

Thus the message which Mary was bidden to give to the disciples would recall to them words such as those of 14:2, 3. Jesus was going to the Father’s house, where He would prepare a place for them. It is remarkable that the form of the message is like that of Matthew 28:10 (probably based on the lost conclusion of Mk.), although there the place where He is to see His disciples again is not heaven but Galilee (cf. Mark 14:28). Luke 24:6, as has been already said, alters the Marcan and Matthæan tradition here, by substituting for the promise of a meeting in Galilee, the words μνήσθητε ὡς ἐλάλησεν ὑμῖν ἔτι ὢν ἐν τῇ Γαλιλαία, λέγων, that the Son of Man must die and rise again, etc. Abbott’s inference from this comparison is that “an expression misunderstood by Mk. and Mt. as meaning Galilee, and omitted by Lk. because he could not understand it at all, was understood by Jn. to mean My Father’s place, i.e. Paradise.”2 This is precarious reasoning, but at any rate it is certain that Jn. (a) was aware of the Matthæan (? Marcan) tradition and (b) that he corrected it, bringing the message into correspondence with a saying of Jesus which he has previously recorded more than once.

Attention must now be directed to the words Μή μου ἅπτου, which (according to all extant texts) Jesus addressed to Mary, His reason being “for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” It is not said explicitly in this chapter that Jesus was ever touched by His disciples after He was risen, although it is suggested both in v. 22 and in v. 27. In the latter passage, Thomas is actually invited to touch the Lord’s wounded side (although it is not said that he did so), just as in Luke 24:39, Jesus says ψηλαφήσατέ με to the assembled disciples. The only explicit statement in the Gospels of the Risen Christ being touched is Matthew 28:9. Nevertheless Luke 24:39 and John 20:27 sufficiently indicate that, in the judgment of the evangelists, it was possible to touch Him, and that He invited such experiment to be made. (See further on v. 20.)

Hence “Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended,” is difficult of interpretation, inasmuch as within a week at any rate, and before His final manifestation at His departure, Jesus had challenged the test of touch. We can hardly suppose that Jn. means us to believe that in the interval between v. 17 and v. 27 the conditions of the Risen Life of Jesus had so changed that what was unsuitable on the first occasion became suitable on the second. And there is the further difficulty, that as the words μή μου ἅπτου οὔπω γὰρ κτλ. stand, it is implied that to “touch” Jesus would be easier after His Ascension than before. The gloss et occurrit ut tangeret eum, which is inserted before noli me tangere in some texts (see on v. 16), shows that the primitive interpretation of the words implied a physical touching, and not merely a spiritual drawing near. The parallel Matthew 28:10 confirms this. Accordingly, to give to the repulse, “Touch me not,” a spiritual meaning, as if it meant that freedom of access between the disciple and the Master would not be complete until the Resurrection had been consummated in the Ascension and the Holy Spirit had been sent, seems over-subtle. Yet this is what the words must mean if μή μου ἅπτου is part of the genuine text of Jn.

Meyer cited a conjectural emendation of these words (by Gersdorf and Schulthess) which he dismissed without discussion, but for which nevertheless there is a good deal to be said. We have drawn attention already to the parallel passage, Matthew 28:10, but there is yet another point to be noted. By all the Synoptists the fear of the women at the tomb is emphasised. ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ (Mark 16:8), although the νεάνισκος had said μὴ ἐκθαμβεῖσθε (Mark 16:6). They were ἔμφοβοι (Luke 24:5). And in Matthew 28:5, Matthew 28:10 not only the angel, but Jesus Himself prefaced His message to the disciples by saying to the women (after they had clasped His feet) μὴ φοβεῖσθε. Now in our texts of Jn. there is no hint that Mary Magdalene (who is the only woman mentioned here by this evangelist) was frightened at all. She is without fear, apparently, when she recognises the Lord. The parallel passage, Matthew 28:9, would suggest (as the gloss here does) that she cast herself at His feet in awestruck homage. We should expect here (as in Mk., Mt.) that Jesus would encourage her by forbidding her to be afraid. Instead of this, we find the enigmatic words μή μου ἅπτου. But if these words are a corruption of μὴ πτόου, as might very well be the case, “be not affrighted,” all is clear This is the verb used of the fright of the disciples in Luke 24:37 (πτοηθέντες), caused as Lk. says by their idea that they saw a spirit. And μὴ πτόου would come exactly where μὴ φοβεῖσθε comes in Matthew 28:10, viz. after the Lord’s feet have been clasped in homage and fear. The sequence, then, is easy. “Be not affrighted, for I have not get gone up to my Father”: I am still with you, as you knew me on earth; I have not yet resumed the awful majesty of heaven. Do not fear: carry my message to the disciples, as in the old days.


The best supported reading is μή μου ἅπτου, but B has μὴ ἅπτου μου, and two cursives (47ev and dscr) omit μου altogether. If the text were originally μὴ πρόου, an easy corruption would be μὴ ἅπτου, and then μου would naturally be added either before or after ἅπτου to make the sense clear.

οὔπω γὰρ�Acts 1:3. But Jn., nevertheless, uses language (6:62) which implies not only that the final departure of Christ was a startling and wonderful incident, but that it was visible, in this agreeing with Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:9; cf. Appx. to Mk. (16:19).


Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου. That was what He had said often before (in effect); but now He adds καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν. His Father was their Father too, although there was a difference in the relation (see on 2:16); and of this He would remind them now. Observe He does not say “Our Father.”

καὶ θεόν μου. So He said “My God” on the Cross (Mark 15:34); cf. Revelation 3:2. He is still Man, and so Paul repeatedly has the expression “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6, etc.). And His God is the God also of His disciples — the only God.


18. ἔρχεται Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδ.�

Luke 24:11 and [Mk.] 16:11 say that the disciples did not believe the report of the women. Mt. does not tell whether the message to the disciples was delivered or no.


ὅτι (recitantis) Ἑώρακα τὸν κύριον. This was the first thing Mary said before she gave her message (cf. v. 25). אBN a g support ἑώρακα, as against the rec. ἐώρακε (with ADLΔΘ).

For ὁ κύριος as a title used by Mary, see on 4:1.

The appearance to Mary is not mentioned by Paul in his summary of the visions of the Risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). It is the appearances to the leaders of the future Church (Peter and James), and to the assembled disciples, that were regarded as the basis for the Church’s faith in the Resurrection.


First Appearance of the Risen Christ to the Disciples: Their Commission and Their Authority (vv. 19-23)

19. οὔσης οὖν ὀψίας. This appearance is described also in Luke 24:36f. Lk. places it after the return of the two from Emmaus, who reported to the apostles their meeting with the Risen Jesus; this would necessarily be late in the evening (cf. Luke 24:29), probably about 8 p.m. (see for ὀψία on 6:16). The Appendix to Mark (16:14) states that He appeared to the Eleven “while they sat at meat.” It is not improbable that they were assembled in the room where the Last Supper was eaten (cf. also Acts 1:13), and where Jesus had spoken the discourses of farewell (Jn. 14-16).

It would appear from Luke 24:36 that the two Emmaus disciples were present, as well as the apostles, and probably some others also (Luke 24:33). This is not necessarily inconsistent with Jn., although He speaks only of “the disciples,” for μαθηταί often includes others besides the inner circle of apostles (see on 2:2). But in the later chapters of Jn. οἱ μαθηταί generally stands for the Eleven, and the Lord’s manifestation of Himself to them in particular, as had been promised (16:16), is mentioned as fundamentally important in 1 Corinthians 15:5. Whether others were present or not, it is His appearance to the apostles on this occasion that is treated as of special significance; and the words of His commission in v. 21 are most naturally limited to those who were commissioned by Him as “apostles” at the beginning of His ministry.1

τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ, a favourite phrase in John 1:39; John 5:9John 5:9; John 11:53John 11:53; John 14:20John 14:20; John 16:23John 16:23; John 16:26John 16:26, and see on 1:29 for Jn.’s precision in noting dates. He adds here, accordingly, τῇ μιᾷ σαββάτων. The rec. text has τῶν before σαββάτων as in v. 1, but אABIL om. τῶν here.

τῶν θυρῶν κεκλεισμένων … διὰ τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδαίων. The rumour that the tomb was empty had spread (as is indicated in Matthew 28:11), and the Jewish leaders were doubtless suspicious of any gathering of the disciples of Jesus For the phrase τὸν φόβον τῶν Ἰουδ., cf. 7:13. It is repeated at v. 26 that the doors of the room were shut at the time of the meeting a week later.

ο῞που ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταί. Only ten of the original Twelve were present (v. 24); Luke 24:33 has οἱ ε῞νδεκα. See on 2:2 for οἱ μαθηταί used absolutely.

The rec. adds συνηγμένοι (NΘ), but אABDW om. Perhaps it was inserted by scribes because of its occurrence in the words of the promise, Matthew 18:20.


ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς. No attempt is made to explain how He came.

καὶ ἔστη εἰς τὸ μέσον (repeated v. 26). Luke 24:36 has the more usual ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν; but εἰς τὸ μέσον after a verb of motion is quite correct (cf. Mark 3:3, Luke 6:8), and has classical authority (e.g. Xenophon, Cyropœd. iv 1:1, στὰς εἰς τὸ μέσον).

Justin (Tryph. 106) finds in Jesus standing in the midst of His brethren (cf. v. 17) a fulfilment of Psalms 22:22 (quoted Hebrews 2:12),


διηγήσομαι τὸ ὄνομα σου τοῖς�

καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν. These words are found also in most texts of Luke 24:36, but being omitted there by D a b e ff2 l r are described by Hort as a “Western non-interpolation” in that place. If that judgment is correct, scribes have brought the words into Lk’s text from Jn., where there is no doubt of their genuineness. It is, however, possible that the words are part of the original text of Lk.; and in that case they furnish an additional illustration of the use of Lk.’s tradition by Jn. at this point (see v. 20). Throughout their accounts of the appearance of the Risen Jesus to the apostles, it is clear that Jn. and Lk. are following the same tradition, while Jn. does not hesitate to correct and amplify or reduce the current version of it (as found in Lk.) at several points.

Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν is the ordinary Eastern salutation on entering a room, and is so used (Luke 24:36, John 20:19, John 20:26). But in v. 21 εἰρήνη ὐμῖν is solemnly repeated before the apostles receive their commission, and may carry an allusion to the parting gift of peace in 14:27.

20. Here, again, we must compare Luke 24:40 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἔδειξεν αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τοὺς πόδας, which also Hort regards as a. “Western non-interpolation,” for these words in Lk. are omitted by D a b e ff l r Syr. cur. They are identical with the words in John 20:20, except that in Jn. we have τὴν πλευράν, while in Lk. we have τοὺς πόδας. Jn. being the only evangelist who mentions the piercing of the Lord’s side (19:34), it is natural that τὴν πλευράν should not appear in Lk.; but if (as Hort supposes) the scribes of Lk. took over the words in question from Jn., they must have deliberately substituted τοὺς πόδας for τὴν πλευράν.

The words τοὺς πόδας in Luke 24:39, Luke 24:40 provide the only Biblical evidence for the belief that the Lord’s feet as well as His hands were nailed to the Cross. In the narratives of the Crucifixion all that is said is “they crucified Him”; but it is not specified whether His hands and feet were tied or nailed to the Cross (both methods being common). Both Lk. and Jn. agree that His hands were marked, and Jn. speaks of “the print of the nails” in them (v. 25); but Jn. says nothing of the feet having been nailed. Pseudo-Peter, in like manner, speaks of drawing out the nails from the hands of Jesus, after He had died (§ 6), but does not mention the feet. So also Cyril of Jerusalem says nothing of the nailing of the feet, while he finds a symbolic meaning in the nailing of the hands (Cat. xiii. 38). The earliest reference (excepting Luke 24:39, Luke 24:40) to the piercing of the feet is in Justin’s Trypho (§ 97), who claims Psalms 22:16-18 as a literal prophecy of the Crucifixion. Having regard to the language of John 20:20, John 20:25, as well as to the second-century tradition of Pseudo-Peter, it would seem as if the tradition of Luke 24:39 [40] rests on the early application of “they pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalms 22:16) to the Crucifixion of Jesus rather than on the testimony of an eye-witness. Such testimony we believe to lie behind the narrative of the Fourth Gospel (cf. 19:35); and hence it is probable that the Lord’s feet were not marked by the print of nails. Jn. in 20:20 is (in our view) deliberately correcting the account given in Luke 24:39, Luke 24:40 (for we take Luke 24:40 to be as original as Luke 24:39), so as to bring it into correspondence with the facts.


τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῖς is the best attested reading (אABD) as against the rec. αὐτοῖς τὰς χεῖρας καὶ τὴν πλευρὰν αὐτοῦ.

Jn. says only that Jesus showed them His hands and His side; Lk. goes further and says that He invited them to dispel their doubts by handling and touching Him (ψηλαφήσατέ με, Luke 24:39); representing the disciples as disturbed and terrified by His sudden appearance. Jn. does not say that they touched Him, or that they were asked to do so; this omission being probably designed, so as to correct an over-statement in Lk.

A later tradition as to this incident, preserved in Ignatius (Smyrn. 3) must now be cited. Ignatius writes: “I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the Resurrection, and when He came to Peter and his company (πρὸς τοὺς περὶ Πέτρον), He said to them, Take, handle me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon (λάβετε ψηλαφήσατέ με, καὶ ἴδετε ὃτι οὐκ εἰμὶ δαιμόνιον�Luke 24:39-43, and amplifies Lk.’s account in particular by stating explicitly that Jesus was touched (see on v. 17 above), and by adding that He drank as well as ate with the disciples.


The simplicity and restraint of Jn.’s account of this incident are not only in marked contrast with the story as Ignatius has it, but are also a feature of Jn.’s narrative as compared with Lk.’s. Jn. does not speak in the Gospel itself of the Risen Lord eating (but cf. the Appendix 21:13 and the note there), or explicitly of His being touched (see above on vv. 14, 17).

ἐχάρησαν οὖν οἱ μαθηταὶ ἰδόντες τὸν κύριον. This was the fulfilment of the promise to the apostles, πάλιν δὲ ὄψομαι ὑμᾶς και χαρήσεται ὑμῶν ἡ καρδία (16:22). Luke 24:41 says that the disciples “disbelieved for joy,” but he states at v. 37 that they were terrified when they saw Jesus standing in their midst. Of their fear, there is no hint in Jn. This is the first occurrence in Jn. of ὁ κύριος being used of Jesus in the direct narrative (see on 4:1, where the apparent exceptions are mentioned). The evangelist is thinking of his Master, not as He moved about in the days of His earthly ministry, but as risen and about to ascend to His glory, i.e. as “the Lord.”


21. εἶπεν οὖν αὐτοῖς. The rec. adds ὁ Ἰησοῦς with ABNΓΔΘ, but om. אDW.

For πάλιν, see on 1:35. For the repeated εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, see on v. 19.

καθὼς … κἀγώ. For this constr., see on 6:57 (cf. 10:15). Here there can be no doubt that the sentence means “As the Father hath sent me, so I send you.” When He commissioned His disciples for their ministry before His final departure, He reproduced the words of the great Prayer which had been said in their hearing: καθὼς ἐμὲ�Mark 3:14), but they had a forward reference also to their final commission.


The constr. καθὼς … κἀγώ at 15:9 and 17:18 (which are parallel in form to the present passage) has to do in both cases with a comparison of the Father’s relation to Christ and Christ’s relation to the apostles, not to the general body of disciples. It is natural to interpret the καθὼς … κἀγώ here as involving the same comparison, and therefore to take the commission here as entrusted to the apostles. Others may have been present (see on v. 19), but the final commission was not specifically given to any but the inner circle, who had been long since selected as those who were to be “sent forth.”

καθὼς�Hebrews 3:1); for God the Father has sent Him (cf. 3:17).


κἀγὼ πέμπω ὑμᾶς. So אcbABD2NΓΔΘ against אcaDL 33�

The question as to who were the first recipients of the gift and the authority conferred by Jesus in vv. 22, 23, has been much debated in connexion with modern controversies as to Confession and Absolution;1 but the exegete must ask one question only, viz., “What did the evangelist intend his readers to believe?” We must not assume, because Luke 24:33 tells that others were with the Eleven on the evening of the Resurrection just before the Lord manifested Himself, that therefore Jn. in his report of the same incident implies either (a) that others beside the apostles were present when Jesus began to speak, or (b) that His commission was not addressed exclusively to the apostles even if others were there. On the contrary, the language used by Jn. seems, as has been said, distinctly to imply that the commission was given to apostles alone.

This was the interpretation put upon John 20:20-23 by the earliest Christian writers who allude to these verses. Justin (Tryph. 106) ignores the presence of any but apostles. Origen (de princip. I. iii. 2 and Comm. in Jn. 388) and Cyprian (de unit. 4, Epist. lxxiii. 6) say explicitly that Accipe spiritum sanctum, etc., was addressed to the apostles. The Liturgy of St. Mark (which may be as early as the second century) is equally explicit.1 I do not know, indeed, of any early writer who takes a different view. The words of Cyprian (Epist. lxxv. 16) in solos apostolos insufflauit Christus, etc., express the accepted view as to the persons to whom the Lord said “Take the Holy Spirit.” It would be going much further to claim that Cyprian’s subsequent inference was justified, for he proceeds to say: “potestas ergo peccatorum remittendorum apostolis data est, et ecclesiis quas illi a Christo missi constiterunt, et episcopis qui eis ordinatione uicaria successerunt.” The words which are italicised need not necessarily be accepted by those who recognise that Jn.’s narrative is a narrative of a commission given in the first instance to the apostles alone.

22. καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν κτλ. “He breathed upon them.” ἐμφυσᾶν does not occur again in N.T., but it is the verb used Genesis 2:7 (cf. Wisd. 15:11) of God “breathing” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life. So in Ezekiel 37:9 “breathe on these slain that they may live” is addressed to the life-giving Spirit. Milligan quotes a parallel from a second or third-century papyrus, ὁ ἑνφυσήσας πνεῦμα�

The language of this verse goes back to Genesis 2:7, it being implied that as the life of Adam was due to the “breath” of God, so the gift of spiritual life to the apostles was imparted by the “breath” of Christ. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45.) The Johannine doctrine is that this quickening power of His spirit could not be released until the “glorification,” i.e. the death, of Jesus (see on 7:37-39); and in strict accordance with this, Jn. represents the Spirit as given and received on the day of His Resurrection. It is not that we have here a foretaste, as it were, of a fuller outpouring of the Spirit which was manifested at Pentecost (arrha Pentecostes, as Bengel calls it); but that, for Jn., the action and the words of Jesus here are a complete fulfilment of the promise of the Paraclete. As has been said on 16:23 (where see note), there is nothing in the Fourth Gospel inconsistent with the story of the Pentecostal effusion (Acts 2:1f.); but for Jn. the critical day, when the Spirit was not only promised, but given, is not Pentecost (as with Lk.) but the day of the Resurrection. We cannot distinguish here, any more than at 7:39, between πνεῦμα and τὸ πνεῦμα.

Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἃγιον. The gift is freely offered, but that it may be “received” demands a responsive effort on the part of him to whom it is offered. Cf. τὸ πνεῦμα … ὃ ὁ κόσμος οὐ δύναται λαβεῖν (14:17). An unspiritual man could not assimilate the gift. Λάβετε, τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ σῶμά μου (Mark 14:22) does not mean that the sacramental gift can operate automatically, but that it is offered freely. So in the Acts (8:15, 17, 19, 10:47) λαμβάνειν πνεῦμα ἃγιον occurs several times, but always the “taking” implies a certain disposition on the part of him who takes.


For πνεῦμα ἃγιον, see on 14:26.

23. ἄν τινων�1 John 2:12Mark 2:5 and parallels, Luke 7:48); but here He seemingly commits, to those to whom He had imparted His Spirit, authority to use the like words.


“Whose soever sins you forgive, they are forgiven unto them.” The meaning of this passage in its context must be sought quite apart from the inferences that have been drawn from it in later ages. As it stands, it is the parting commission of Jesus to the apostles, to whom He had previously promised the Holy Spirit, and to whom He had now imparted that Divine gift. Jn. says nothing about the authority of those who received it to impart the Spirit in their turn to others. That may be a legitimate inference, but it is an inference for the validity of which we must seek evidence elsewhere.

That the apostles interpreted their evangelical mission as giving them authority to hand it on is, indeed, not doubtful. The terms of their commission as described in Matthew 28:19, Matthew 28:20 (cf. [Mk.] 16:15) imply that it was to last “to the end of the world,” the apostolate being established in permanence. Clement of Rome, whose Epistle is contemporary with the Fourth Gospel, expresses the accepted view: “Jesus Christ was sent forth from God … the apostles are from Christ … preaching everywhere, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons to them that should believe” (Clem. Rom. 42). And it would appear in like manner that, as early as the time of Origen1 at any rate, the bishops were regarded as having succeeded to the powers of binding and loosing committed to the apostles in Matthew 18:18.

But, whether these developments were legitimate or not, we are here concerned only with the meaning of the commission to the apostles as recorded in vv. 22, 23; and confining ourselves strictly to this, we start from the presupposition—common to Jews and Christians—that no one can “forgive” sin but God (Mark 2:7). But God is always ready to forgive (1 John 1:9); and the assurance of God’s forgiveness can always be given confidently to repentant sinners. This assurance may be given by any one; it needs no authority to give it, for it is a fundamental principle of the Gospel. But, then, no one can give this assurance in an individual case, without being certain that this individual sinner is, indeed, repentant in his heart. And to be sure of this, he who says “thy sins are forgiven” must be able to read men’s hearts. Jesus claimed that He could do this: “the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). Of this the explanation is found in John 3:34, “He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God, for He giveth not the Spirit by measure.” To Jesus, and to Him alone, was the Spirit given in its fullness, and so He alone could infallibly discern the secrets of the human heart (John 2:25). He could say, therefore, “thy sins are forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5) with a complete authority.

Now a main theme of the Fourth Gospel is that Jesus promised that He would send (14:16, 16:7-13), and did in fact impart (20:22), the Spirit to the apostles. It was not confined to them, but was for every believing disciple (7:38) But it was more largely promised, and more explicitly bestowed, on them than on any one else. And it was in the power of this Spirit of God that they were authorised not only to proclaim universally the message of God’s forgiveness (Acts 10:43), but to say in individual cases “thy sins are forgiven.” Among the gifts of the Spirit was the gift of insight (cf. διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, 1 Corinthians 12:10 and see John 16:8). Hence the words λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον govern the words giving the apostles authority to forgive or not to forgive. In so far as the Spirit was theirs, so far was their judgment of men’s hearts a true judgment.

Lk. does not tell of so explicit an authority being conferred upon the apostles; but the parting commission for him too is “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached to all the nations”; and the authority is described as “the promise of the Father” which is presently to be granted (Luke 24:47, Luke 24:49). The parting commission to the Eleven in Matthew 28:18f. has one point of similarity with John 20:23, viz. that it rests the command to make disciples upon the universal authority of Christ. “All authority hath been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore,” etc. Their power as evangelists would rest upon their being His disciples; just as in Jn. 22:23 their power of absolving is made dependent upon their assimilation of His Spirit. It is to be observed that Jn. makes no mention of any commission to baptize.

The passages in Mt., however, which are specially recalled by Jn. 22:23 are Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18, in both of which we find “What things soever you shall bind (δήσητε) on earth shall be bound in heaven ; and what things soever you shall loose (λύσητε) on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In Matthew 16:19 these words are addressed to Peter, as having the keys of the kingdom of heaven; in Matthew 18:18 they are (seemingly) addressed to the Twelve. To “bind” and to “loose” are Rabbinical expressions signifying to “prohibit” and to “permit” (many illustrations are given in Lightfoot’s Hor. Hebr. on Matthew 16:19)1; and the use of these verbs would suggest to Jews a form of ecclesiastical discipline (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:4, and esp. Acts 15:29, Acts 16:4). In Matthew 18:18 the context shows that something of this sort is indicated; the Divine ratification being promised of the Church’s action. The words refer to the “loosing” of “sin,” and may imply forgiveness as well as discipline. To forgive sins is to loose; cf. τῷ λύσαντι ἡμᾶς ἐκ τῶν�Revelation 1:5; see also Job 42:9, LXX).

Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 are passages which have marks of lateness; they are, e.g., the only two passages in the Gospels where the word “Church” is found; and the tradition preserved in them of the Lord’s commission to the Apostles is more likely to be dependent on that of Jn. 22:23 than vice versa. Indeed Jn.’s brief narrative here is clearly an original statement, and does not betray any acquaintance with Matthew 16:19, Matthew 18:18.

ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται. The Sinai Syriac renders “whom ye shall shut your door against, it shall be shut”; i.e. it takes κρατῆτε as governing τινῶν, rather than τὰς ἁμαρτίας. κρατεῖν does not occur elsewhere in Jn., but it generally takes the accusative, and the parallelism of the sentence would suggest that�Mark 7:8,�


The broad, unqualified form of this great assurance to the apostles is characteristic of many of the sayings of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, e.g. “Whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, He will give it you” (15:16). He did not stay to explain the limitations or conditions of such a promise. It is a mark of every great teacher, confident in himself, that he does not weaken the force of his teaching by pointing out, at every stage, possible exceptions to the maxims which he has enunciated; and it was a mark of the greatest Teacher of all.

The Incredulity of Thomas (vv. 24, 25) and Its Removal (vv. 26-29)

24. This section is peculiar to Jn., who is specially interested in Thomas (11:16, 14:5). See on v. 28.

Θωμᾶς … ὁ λεγόμενος Δἰδυμος. See on 11:16 for this expression. As has been noted there, Thomas was the pessimist of the apostolic band. We can imagine his saying “I told you so,” when the Cross seemed to be the end of all their hopes. His absence from the meeting of the disciples on the Resurrection day may have been due to a feeling that such gatherings were futile, henceforth. But he came to the second meeting a week later, although unconvinced by what the others had told him, just as Lk. tells that the others were unconvinced by the report of the women (Luke 24:11).

εἷς ἐκ τῶν δώδεκα. See on 6:71 for this phrase. The apostolic company are still described as “the Twelve” (cf. 6:67), although one had failed in his allegiance and was now separated from them. “The Twelve” remained a convenient title for the inner circle of disciples; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5, Pseudo-Peter, § 12, and Acta Thaddæi, 6.


25. Ἐωράκαμεν τὸν κύριον. So Mary had said (v. 18). But Thomas was not satisfied. He claimed that he must test the matter by his sense of touch (a test which according to Jn. had not been offered to the other disciples, see v. 20), and not by sight only.

τὸν τύπον. AΘ have τὸν τόπον at the second occurrence of this word, a very natural mistake. The Vulgate has fixuram clauorum, followed by in locum clauorum: fixuram is the rendering of τύπον by g, but b c d e give figuram.

Thomas is represented as knowing of the lance-thrust in Jesus’ side, which suggests that he was a witness of the Crucifixion. As has been pointed out on v. 20, no mention is made of any nailing of the feet.

26 μεθʼ ἡμέρας ὀκτώ. The disciples seem to have remained in Jerusalem for the whole of Passover week, either because they had made arrangements to do so before the feast began, or (more probably) because they had some reason to believe that Jesus would manifest Himself to them again. This second manifestation was seemingly in the same room (ἔσω) where He had shown Himself to them on the evening of the Resurrection day; there is no evidence that any manifestation of the Risen Lord was granted during the week. Jn. follows his usual habit (see on 1:29) of giving dates for the incidents of his narrative.

This time Thomas was with his ten comrades (οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ instead of οἱ μαθηταί as at v. 19; see on 2:2), the doors again being shut, perhaps because they were still afraid of the Sanhedrim. Jn. writes here ἔρχεται ὁ Ἰησοῦς, a solemn phrase which (unlike ἦλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς of v. 19) may be intended to express that He was expected to come. The narrative proceeds exactly as in v. 19 (where see note) καὶ ἔσρη εἰς τὸ μέσον, καὶ εἶπεν Εἰρήνη ὑμῖν, Jesus giving them the customary salutation of Peace, as before.

27. εἶτα λέγει τῷ Θωμᾷ. Jn. tells the story, as if Jesus immediately addressed Himself to Thomas, and as if it were on his account that He had come among them again.

Jesus offers to Thomas at once the test which he had declared would be essential if he were to credit the story that the Lord had risen, and suggests it in almost the same words that Thomas had used (v. 25). He thus shows to Thomas that He knows what has been in his mind and how he had expressed it. And His words, revealing that this was He who could read men’s hearts (2:25), proved sufficient to sweep away all doubt from the mind of His incredulous disciple. There is no suggestion in the text that Thomas took advantage of the proferred test, or that he touched the body of the Risen Jesus at all (see on v. 20 above).

ἴδε τὰς χεῖράς μου, “look at my hands,” which were probably uncovered. This is perhaps in contrast with … βάλε εἰς τὴν πλευράν μου, “put your hand into my side,” as if the invitation were to put his hand under the garments of Jesus, to assure himself. But, perhaps, all that is implied is that the test of touch was offered to Thomas, while the other disciples had been content with seeing the Lord’s hands and side (v. 20).1

καὶ μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος�

For the use of ὁ with a nominative case for a vocative, cf. Mark 14:36, Psalms 63:1, Psalms 65:1, Psalms 71:17, and especially Psalms 35:23, ὁ θεός μου καὶ ὁ κύριός μου. Milligan (s.v. κύριος) cites, for the combination of θεός and κύριος, a Fayûm inscription of b.c. 24 on a building at Socnopæi, τῷ θεῷ και κυρίῳ Σοκνοπαίῳ. Cf. Abbott, Diat. 2682.


29. λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰης. B omits ὁ, as usual (see on 1:29).

ὅτι ἑώρακάς με. The rec. adds Θωμᾶ, but om. אABCDWΘ.

πεπίστευκας; We should probably treat this as interrogative, “Hast thou believed, because thou hast seen Me?” (cf. 16:31). It was sight, not touch, that convinced Thomas. Jesus does not say, “Hast thou believed, because thou hast touched Me?” Thomas was convinced, just as the other disciples were, by seeing the Lord (v. 20). The faith which is generated thus is precious (cf. on 2:11 for the faith which rests on “signs”); but it was possible for Jesus’ contemporaries alone to see Him as the disciples saw Him. By the time the Fourth Gospel was written, the first generation of Christian believers had passed away, and the path to faith for all future disciples could not be the path of sight (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7, 1 Peter 1:8). So Jn. adds here as the last word of Jesus in the Gospel as originally planned, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”1

This Beatitude has been sometimes supposed to contain an implied rebuke to Thomas. But it can be no more a rebuke to him than to the other disciples ([Mk.] 16:14), who, equally, saw before they believed. If Thomas is rebuked at all, it is in the words μὴ γίνου ἄπιστος (v. 27, where see note). It is never taught in the Gospel that a facile credulity is a Christian virtue; and Thomas was not wrong in wishing for some better proof of his Master’s Resurrection than hearsay could give. Indeed, Jesus had warned His disciples not to give credence to every tale that they heard about Him: “If any man shall say, Lo, here is the Christ … believe it not” (Mark 13:21).2 But cf. 4:50 for an illustration of the faith that does not require to “see.”

For μακάριοι, see on 13:17, and cf. Luke 1:45.


After ἰδόντες, א with 346, 556, supported by the Syriac vss. and some Latin texts with Irish affinities, add με, an explanatory gloss.

Scope and Purpose of the Gospel (vv. 30, 31)

30. These verses form the conclusion (clausula, as Tertullian calls v. 31, adv. Prax. 25) of the Gospel as originally planned, c. 21 being a supplement added before the book was issued (see p. 687).

πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἄλλα σημειᾶ … For μὲν οὖν, cf. 19:24. Jn. explains that it was not his purpose to write a complete narrative of Jesus’ ministry. Other “signs” were done by Him (cf. 2:23, 4:45, 12:37) which he does not stay to record, although they were done in the presence of the disciples, who were the witnesses of His wonderful works, chosen by Jesus Himself (15:27; cf. Acts 1:21, Acts 10:41). Such were, e.g., the healings of lepers and demoniacs, of which none is described in the Fourth Gospel. They were not written “in this book,” although some of them were written in other books, such as the Synoptic Gospels, of which Jn. knew Mk. and probably Lk. also.


After μαθητῶν the rec. with אCDLWΘ adds αὐτοῦ, but om. ABΔ. The witnesses of the “signs” were not only the Twelve, but disciples generally. See on 2:2 for the omission of αὐτοῦ.

ἐνώπιον. This prep. occurs only once again in Jn. (1 John 3:22). It is frequent in Lk., but is not found in Mk. Mt. (see Abbott, Diat. 2335).

31. ταῦτα δὲ γέγραπται, δέ corresponding to μέν of v. 30. But the signs which have been chosen by Jn. for record were recorded with the aim of inspiring in his readers the conviction that Jesus is divine, so that with this belief they may have life in His name. The Gospel, like the First Epistle, was written with a definite purpose. Cf. ταῦτα ἔγραψα ὑμῖν, ἵνα εἰδῆτε ὅτι ζωὴν ἔχετε αἰώνιον, τοῖς πιστεύουσιν εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ (1 John 5:13).


ἵνα πιστεύητε. So א*BΘ (as at 19:35), as against the rec. πιστεύσητε (אACDNW).

ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ. This reproduces the terms of Martha’s confession of faith (11:27), before Lazarus had been restored to her. But whereas, on her lips, ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ was probably used only as a title of Messiah, as Jn. uses it here it appears to have a deeper significance (see on 1:34). The faith of future believers is to be not only a faith in Jesus as the Christ (cf. 1:41 and Mark 8:29), but a faith in Him as the Son of God in the higher sense which has been suggested many times in the Gospel (1:18, 3:18, 5:25, 19:7), and which is made explicit in the Confession of Thomas at its close (v. 28).

καὶ ἵνα πιστεύοντες κτλ. This is the central message of the Fourth Gospel, that belief in Jesus Christ is the path to life. See 3:15, 16, 36, 1 John 5:13. “In Him was life” is proclaimed in the Prologue (1:4), and the purpose of His coming was that men might have life; cf. 5:40, 6:53, 10:10.

The order of words suggests as the natural rendering “that, believing, ye may have life in His Name.” The sequence “life in His Name” (ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ) does not occur elsewhere; but the prayer of Christ was that His faithful disciples might be “kept in His Name” by the Father (17:11, 12), and this perhaps provides a sufficient parallel. Cf. Acts 10:43 “to receive forgiveness of sins through His Name,” and 1 Corinthians 6:11.

On the other hand, in the closely similar passage quoted above (1 John 5:13) it is those “who believe in the name (εἰς τὸ ὄνομα) of the Son of God” that have eternal life. And at 1:12 (where see note) the authority to become children of God is for those who “believe in His Name.” It would thus be more explicitly in accordance with Johannine teaching if we disregarded the natural order of the words here, and rendered “that believing in His Name, ye may have life” (see on 3:15). It would seem from 16:23 (where see note) that to take ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι αὐτοῦ with πιστεύοντες, despite the intervention of ζωὴν ἔχητε, would be consistent with Johannine style.

After ζωήν אC*DL and fam. 13 add αἰώνιον, probably through reminiscence of 1 John 5:13, but om. ABNWΔΘ. For ζωή and ζωὴ αἰώνιος, see on 3:15.










1 See Latham, The Risen Master, p. 37, and cf. p. 225.

2 Latham supposes that the other women looked into the tomb and reported its emptiness to Mary (l.c. p. 40).

אԠSinaiticus (δ 2). Leningrad. iv.

A Alexandrinus (δ 4). British Museum. v. Cc. 6:50-8:52 are missing.

B Vaticanus (δ 1). Rome. Cent. iv.

L Regius (ε 56). Paris. viii. Cc. 15:2-20 21:15-25 are missing.

Γ̠(ε 70) Oxford and Leningrad. ix-x. Contains Song of Solomon 1:1-13 8:3-15:24 19:6 to end.


Δ̠Sangallensis (ε 76). St. Gall. ix-x. Græco-Latin.

Θ̠Koridethi (ε 050). Tiflis. vii-ix. Discovered at Koridethi, in Russian territory, and edited by Beermann & Gregory (Leipzig, 1913). The text is akin to that of fam. 13, fam. 1, and the cursives 28, 565, 700 See Lake and Blake in Harvard Theol. Review (July 1923) and Streeter, The Four Gospels. Cf. also J.T.S. Oct. 1915, April and July 1925.

D Bezæ (δ 5). Cambridge. v-vi. Græco-Latin. Cc. 18:14-20:13 are missing in the Greek text, and the gap has been filled by a ninth-century scribe (Dsupp).

1 See, e.g., Chase, Syro-Latin Text of the Gospels, p. 130 n., and Salmon, Some Criticism of the Text of N.T., p. 150.

2 See Abbott, Diat., 1803.

3 So the Vulgate has here “cum se inclinasset, uidet.”

4 Tatian makes no mention of stooping.

5 Cf. Abbott, Diat. 1804, and Field on Luke 24:12.


1 Chrysostom calls attention to this point.

N Purpureus Petropolitanus (ε 19). Dispersed through the libraries of Leningrad, Patmos, Rome, Vienna, and British Museum. vi. Some pages are missing. Edited by H. S. Cronin in Cambridge Texts and Studies (1899).

W Freer (ε 014). Washington. iv-vi. Discovered in Egypt in 1906. The Gospels are in the order Mt., Jn., Lk., Mk. Collation in The Washington MS. of the Four Gospels, by H. A. Sanders (1912).

1 The Risen Master, pp. 417, 418.

1 I have endeavoured to draw out this distinction in Studia Sacra, p. 122 f.

1 E. C. Hoskyns finds a mystical meaning in the whole story: “The risen Lord is ὁ κηπουρός, for He is the Lord of the Garden, and once more He walks in His garden in the cool of the day, the early morning, and converses not with the fallen, but with the redeemed.” Cf. Genesis 3:8 (J.T.S., April 1920, p. 215). The idea is worthy of Origen. but is too subtle to be convincing.

1 Burkitt observes (Christian Beginnings, p. 45) that Jael said Ribboni to Sisera, according to the Aramaic Targum (Judges 4:18).


1 Introd., pp. xcvi ff.

1 Origen, twice at least (Comm. 285, 357), substitutes πορεύομαι for�John 20:17.


2 E.B. 1770.

1 The final commission, as described in Matthew 28:16, would seem to be addressed to the Eleven only; cf. also Matthew 16:14-16.


1 See Report of Fulham Conference on Confession and Absolution, pp. 7:109.

1 See Brightman, Eastern Liturgies, p. 116.

1 Comm. in Mt. xii. 14 (Lommatzsch, iii. 156).

1 Cf. also Dalman, Words of Jesus, pp. 215-217.

1 In the second-century Epistle of the Apostles (c. 11), Peter and Andrew as well as Thomas are invited by Jesus to apply the test of touch, and were convinced by it.

C Ephræmi (δ 3). Paris. v. Palimpsest. Contains considerable fragments of Jn.

Diat. E. A. Abbott’s Diatessarica, including his Johannine Vocabulary and Johannine Grammar, Parts I.-X. (1900-1915).

1 Cf. 2 Esd. 1:37, “I take to witness the grace of the people that shall come, whose little ones rejoice with gladness; and though they see me not with bodily eyes, yet in spirit they shall believe the thing that I say.”

2 Cf. Latham, The Risen Master, pp. 186 ff., for the mental attitude of Thomas, as depicted by Jn.



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Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on John 20". International Critical Commentary NT. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/icc/john-20.html. 1896-1924.