The Significance of Jesus’ Post-Resurrection Appearance to Mary

[Read the first paragraph and then jump to the last five paragraphs if detailed academic writing bores you.  🙂  The details in this exegetical discussion lead to beautiful conclusions at the end!]

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene: An Exegetical Discussion

What is one to glean from John’s account of Christ’s post-resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene? What follows is an exploration of this account (John 20:10-18) which has a two-fold purpose: first, to discuss some text-related issues which will shine light on the passage and second, to draw conclusions from this discussion which will yield a solid interpretation of the passage both in its original context and in today’s context.

The passage reads:1

10 Then the disciples went back to their2 homes.

11 But Mary3 stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two4 angels in white sitting5, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”6 She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turn around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said to him, “Master, if you carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”7 She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”8 (which means Teacher).9 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold onto me for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” 18 Mary Magdalene went announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” – and that he had said these things to her.

Because there are no significant textual issues (i.e. textual issues that could alter the meaning of this text), the most noteworthy discrepancies have been identified through footnotes only. Besides these minor textual issues, one observes perhaps more significant items for discussion when comparing the story’s rendering in the ESV, NIV, and NASB. The NIV reads “Now Mary…” at the beginning of verse 11, while the ESV and NASB both begin the sentence with “But Mary…” The reading for this translation and discussion uses but. While δε can mean but or and, but seems more appropriate in the context of this passage because the idea is to contrast Mary’s lingering at the tomb against the disciples’ returning to their homes. But conveys this idea better than does and or now (as the NIV renders it). In this same verse, “stood weeping” has been chosen as the preferred reading rather than “stood outside the tomb weeping.” Though the Greek word order places κλαιουσα at the end of the clause, this participle “indicates the manner in which the action of the finite verb is carried out.”10 Since “weeping” is the manner in which Mary “stood” (ειστηκει), it makes more sense to join these two words in an English translation. One will notice that the NIV renders this word “crying” instead of “weeping,” yet renders the very same Greek word (the aorist tense: εκλαιεν) as “wept” shortly thereafter. The ESV and NASB, however, use “weeping”/ “wept” throughout. Because the same Greek word is used all four times in this passage (verses 11, 13, and 15), it is most sensible to relate it using the same English word for every occurrence as both ESV and NASB do. One final difference is worth noting. In verse 18, the ESV reads, “Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples,” while the NIV reads, “Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news…” Neither of these quite capture this present active participle, αγγελλουσα. Present tense often conveys ongoing, continuous action,11 and active voice indicates that the subject (in this case, Mary) is performing the action of the verb.12 So to simply say “announced” as the ESV does is to miss this continuous aspect, and to say “went to the disciples with the news” sounds too passive for an active participle. Because of these grammatical principles, the translation for this discussion reads “Mary Magdalene went announcing to the disciples,” a reading which happens to agree with the NASB. This wording more accurately conveys both Mary’s active role in the “announcing” and the undoubtedly continuous nature of that announcing.

The structure of this passage is fairly simple, consisting of three smaller sections (Verses 10-11, 12-15, and 16-18). Verses 10 and 11 form a sort of pair in that the first describes what the disciples did (left the premises) while the second contrasts that with what Mary did (linger at the tomb). Verses 12-15 form the second unit within this passage. These four verses comprise two pairs, one of which is 12-13 and the other of which is 14-15. Mary sees two angels in verse 12, and then in verse 13 they ask her why she is weeping. Her response to them shows obvious confusion about what has happened to Jesus. Then the second pair of verses (14-15) essentially repeats this scenario, but this time the interaction is between Mary and Jesus. She sees Jesus in verse 14, and he asks her in verse 15 why she is weeping (the very same question the angels just asked her). She offers the same confused response to Jesus that she gave to the angels. Finally, the last subdivision of this passage, verses 16-18, brings the story to its conclusion. The narrative shifts at this point as Jesus calls Mary by name (verse 16), causing her to recognize him. It is implied that Mary then tries to touch him or embrace him because Jesus tells her (in verse 17) not to hold onto him but to, instead, go and tell the disciples what has happened. The narrative ends with Mary obeying this command; she goes and announces these things to the disciples (verse 18). One could perhaps summarize this structure with these subdivisions: First, disciples leave, but Mary stays. Second, Mary has two encounters in which she sees someone and is questioned by them, showing obvious confusion in both of her responses. Third, Jesus reveals himself, Mary finally recognizes him, Jesus commissions her, and she obeys. It is noteworthy in such a simple narrative structure to have the same exact question asked twice: Why are you weeping? This twice repeated question echoes in the reader’s ears and seems to convey a point that John wants to make: The empty tomb is not a reason to weep, but rather is a reason to rejoice. Mary misses this message, which makes Jesus’ climactic reveal especially powerful. The narrative shifts dramatically when Jesus calls her by name, and this is partly because of how the structure of the text sets up the story.

It can also be helpful to consider the larger structure within which this passage falls. James Audlin asserts that this passage is part of a larger section (verses 1-18) which is composed of three sections: “home, away, home” or “A-B-A,”calling Mary the “home” character which is present in the first section (verses 1-2), absent in the second section (verses 3-10, hence “away”), and back in the third section (verses 11-18). He also notes that the third section exhibits this same “A-B-A” structure within itself.13 Viewing the passage through the lens of this structure still renders Jesus’ revealing of himself to Mary as the climax. In fact, viewing the passage in light of this larger structure may even strengthen the climax. For in the first two sections (verses 1-2 and 3-10), there is a search and an anticipation but with no tangible discovery, only the absence thereof. But in the last section, the anticipation culminates in the climactic discovery of the One for whom they’ve been searching.

Beyond the textual, grammatical, and structural issues, one must also consider some important in-the-text issues, such as where this passage falls in the broader context of the entire Gospel and how it compares to the other Gospel accounts. The general outline of John consists of the Prologue (1:1-18), the Book of Signs (1:19-12:50), Jesus’ Ministry to His Disciples (13:1-17:26), Jesus’ Suffering and Glory (18:1-20:31), and the Epilogue (21:1-25).14 The passage at hand falls into the section in which Jesus suffers and is glorified; more specifically, it is within Jesus’ glorification. This glorification section involves three post-resurrection appearances: one to Mary Magdalene, one to his disciples, and one to Thomas, respectively. Because John describes three appearances, it is significant that Mary’s is depicted as happening first. This is the time at which Jesus is finally being glorified – a moment to which the entire Gospel has pointed. So this first appearance holds a lot of weight.

But how does this account compare to the Synoptics’? There are noticeable differences, but there are also striking similarities. Following are a few of the major differences: Matthew and Mark only mention one angel (Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:5), Matthew has the lone angel sitting on the grave’s stone rather than inside the grave (Matthew 28:2), the lone angel in Matthew and Mark does not ask Mary a question but rather informs her that Jesus is risen and commissions her to spread the news (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7), and Mark, unlike all other accounts, portrays the women (plural, not just Mary Magdalene) as being so fearful that they do not share the news of Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16:8). So how is one to reconcile these seeming discrepancies? As Ashton asserts, perhaps the “unanswerability [of this question] is a very good reason for taking each… of the stories independently.”15 Besides taking these stories independently, one also ought to take Keener’s suggestion into consideration: “The variation in length of the Gospels’ resurrection narratives may represent the desire to make optimum use of the scroll length instead of leaving a blank space at the end.”16 Perhaps some details are offered in certain accounts but not in others simply because of the space factor. More important than attempting to make sense of seeming discrepancies is finding what is common to every account.

Despite what seems to be significant differences between John’s account and the Synoptic accounts, there are also striking similarities. All four accounts depict the “revelation of Christ’s resurrection [as beginning] on the first day of the week, after the Sabbath,”17 and all four mention women as the first witnesses. Though all three Synoptic accounts mention women besides Mary, they all list Mary first. So there is an emphasis on Mary in all four accounts. Keener echoes this observation: “The four Gospels differ in detail, but in all four women become the first witnesses, and Mary Magdalene is explicitly named…”18 Though two accounts mention one angel instead of two, all four mention the presence of an angel, as well as interaction between the onlookers and the angelic presence. The whiteness of the angel(s)’ clothing is also common to all four accounts. Additionally, all three Synoptic accounts agree with John in his description of the women going to tell the disciples the news of the resurrection. So John agrees with all three Synoptic accounts on the most significant details while offering an original perspective on the story. One of “John’s distinctive contribution[s] to the record of the resurrection appearances lies in the conversation with Mary Magdalene. … The effect of the Johannine story is to take us into the history, both literally and spiritually, in a way that none of the other Gospels do.”19 Barrett affirms John’s uniqueness: “The narrative may show some trace of the literary influence of the short Marcan resurrection story (Mark 16:1-8), but in substance it is independent. …There is no doubt that the present passage shows dramatic writing of great skill and individuality.”20

Having considered some in-the-text issues, one must also take note of some behind-the-text issues. Who is the most likely author of this Gospel? When and to whom was he writing, and for what purpose? Though many scholars, including Bultmann, assert that “we are not in a position to say anything definite about the author”21 because he is unnamed, evidence points to John the Apostle. The writer is identified with the Beloved Disciple22 – who purports to be an eyewitness “who followed Jesus closely, in a role that could not have easily belonged to someone outside Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.”23 Most scholarship agrees that the Gospel was written circa A.D. 90.24 Most scholarship also asserts that the core audience to whom the account was written was “emigrant Palestinian Jews”25 – Jews whom eventually allowed “Gentiles into the Johannine community.”26 This acceptance of Gentiles into the original, core group eventually led to hostility between the synagogue leaders and the Johannine community. “By the time the Gospel was written the Johannine Christians had been expelled from the synagogues because of what they were claiming about Jesus.”27 It is to this close-knit, “family”28 of believers that John writes his Gospel, deemed by most to be a “historical biography.”29 Many scholars have pointed out the liberty ancient writers often took30 with the accuracy and details of their accounts. This discussion, however, takes the perspective that John was concerned with historical accuracy, considering that there wasn’t such editorial liberty for “narratives concerning recent teachers”31 and that the Gospels “derive from a period close to the events, when the influence of eyewitnesses of the events remained prominent.”32

John’s stated purpose for writing is found in 20:31, which reads: “But these things have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, by believing, you might have life in his name.” John wrote this Gospel so that people would believe in Jesus as the Christ and would, therefore, gain eternal life through him. Wallace expounds on John’s purpose in writing: “The twofold ἵνα-clause neatly delineates the purpose: that the audience embrace Christ and that they receive life because of this.”33 Besides John’s stated purpose in writing, his “purpose is historical as well as theological.”34 In other words, his aim is to communicate both historical fact and spiritual truth revealed by historical fact simultaneously.

With behind-the-text discussion comes some historical-cultural considerations as well. First, one must consider the broader framework in which this Gospel was written. Though John’s core audience was likely Palestinian Jews, “Palestinian Judaism was part of the larger Greco-Roman world.”35 So this resurrection passage must first be understood in terms of the general Greco-Roman culture at this point in history. For example, what did this culture believe about resurrection? The Roman culture did not have a concept of resurrection as it is presented in this passage. Homer’s writings painted a bleak and permanent picture regarding death: “To me surely life would then no more be sweet; rather would I die at once and be among the dead.”36 To die simply meant to “be among the dead.” Socrates seemed more optimistic about life after death, though his belief comes across as vague. Plato describes it towards the end of Apology as he quotes Socrates: “Let us consider also… that there is much hope that being dead is something good. For to be dead is one of two things: either it is like being nothing and the dead person does not have any perception of anything, or, as they say, it is some kind of change, namely relocation, of the soul from here to another place.”37 This is better than nothing, but it sounds very unsure and leaves one with nothing concrete to believe about life after death. Plato moved Greek thinking still closer to the concept of resurrection by depicting the immortality of the soul. He describes, in one episode, a man who was slain in battle and then was “revived” back to life, after which he tells others what he “had seen in the world beyond.”38

What about the role of women? How did the broader Greco-Roman culture view them? Words inscribed into the Roman law answer this question emphatically: “Do not let a flaunting woman coax and cozen and deceive you… The man who trusts womankind trust deceivers.”39 This law indicates that women were not only seen as subordinate to men but were also viewed with suspicion in general.

Within this broader context was the more specific historical-cultural context of the Jewish world, into which John’s Gospel spoke. The Hebrew Bible does not discuss resurrection per se, but rather, conveys a mysterious, inactive state after death. Job 14:14 asks, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” The Psalmist writes, “The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down in silence” (Psalm 115:16-17). There are many references to sheol, which means “underworld,”40 but no true concept of resurrection. Perhaps the closest the Hebrew scriptures come to describing resurrection is in Elisha’s raising of the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead (2 Kings 4:18-37) and in Daniel’s proclamation that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). While this scripture in Daniel seems like a very explicit statement about resurrection, N.T. Wright points out that “Daniel… is the latest book of the Hebrew Bible.”41 So there is not a solid, longstanding belief in (and certainly not doctrine of) resurrection among Jews. In fact, according to Josephus, the Sadduccess (a Jewish group) believed that “the soul perishes along with the body.”42 Philo of Alexandria did refer repeatedly to the “immortal soul”43 within man, but as N.T. Wright points out, this immortality of the soul is a platonic, disembodied immortality.44

What about Jewish views regarding women during this time? Despite some major exceptions,45 the general attitude toward women in the Hebrew scriptures was that women were subordinate to men. The message was not that women were less valuable than men- for both man and woman were said to be created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) – but rather, that women were generally under the authority of men. This is seen in Adam’s being created first (Genesis 2:18), the fact that the priestly role was fulfilled by men (Exodus 29), and the fact that women’s identities were very connected to their husbands (Exodus 21:10). Josephus’ writings are telling of this Jewish attitude toward women: “for (says the scripture) ‘A woman is inferior to man in all things.’”46 So in both the general and specific contexts in which John’s account was written, resurrection was, at best, a vague notion not believed in by many. And women were seen as subordinate to men and even viewed with a degree of suspicion.

Having considered some in-the-text and behind-the-text issues, one must also weigh in on in-front-of-the-text developments. How has this passage been read and interpreted throughout the history of the Church? Though some prominent church fathers such as Chrysostom and Calvin47 dismissed Mary’s emotion as expected since “the female sex is naturally tender and inclined to weep,”48 others, like Augustine, saw Mary’s lingering as an extraordinary act of faith and loyalty. “…Though the men returned, the stronger love of the woman fixed her to the spot.”49 Gregory agreed with Augustine in seeing something significant in Mary’s lingering. He expounded on her encounter with the risen Christ: “She sought the body, and found it not; she persevered in seeking, and so it came to pass that she found. Her longings, growing the stronger, the more they were disappointed, at last found and laid hold on their object.”50 Much modern scholarship echoes these sentiments about the importance of Mary. Keener sees Jesus’ commissioning Mary as his agent as very significant, given that “first-century Palestinian Jews rarely appear to have used women as agents.”51

With each of these aforementioned factors in mind, one is better equipped to revisit and to glean from this post-resurrection account. The passage begins with 20:10, the point at which the disciples return to their homes after inspecting the tomb upon Mary’s announcement to them that it was empty (20:2). This return to their homes seems fairly appropriate, given that all they discover in the tomb is linen clothes (20:5-7). However, a sharp contrast is created between the disciples’ response and Mary’s in 20:11. This verse begins with δε which is best translated as but in this context. The difference in Mary’s response as compared to the disciples’ is hard to miss because of this word choice. The idea is that the disciples did one thing, but Mary did another; they “moved on” in a way, but she remained at the tomb in her grief. Though Mary is the only woman named in this account, Robinson points out that “It is unlikely that a woman would have ventured by herself outside the city walls before daylight.”52 It is highly probable, especially when the Synoptic accounts are taken into consideration, that Mary was accompanied by other women. As discussed earlier, though, she obviously was seen as significant in the story because she is the only one named in this account and the first one named in all three other accounts.

Verse 12 begins the second subdivision of this passage. Mary sees two angels (δυο αγγελους) dressed in white (εν λευκοις), one sitting at the head and one sitting at the feet, at the place where Jesus’ body had laid. The white clothing seems significant, especially since it is mentioned in all four Gospel accounts. White conveys the idea of purity, worship, and even joy, as Gregory the Great asserts. “The angel appeared in a white garment, because he came to announce the joyfulness of our feast. For us, whiteness of clothing marks the splendor of a celebration. … Certainly this resurrection of our Redeemer is a festival for us, because by it he led us back to immortality.”53 What also seems significant is that John specifically describes them as being at the head and foot of the place of Jesus’ body. It sounds strikingly similar to the cherubim in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:19) and, therefore, seems to convey the sanctity of the site. Keener, however, makes a good point concerning the major difference, namely that “Jesus’ presence was gone from the site,”54 as opposed to the ark of the covenant which housed the presence of God.

Verse 13 forms a sort of pair with verse 12, as mentioned earlier. These angels ask Mary why she is weeping (τί κλαιεις;), to which she responds by voicing her desire to know where Jesus’ body is. While John does include the angel(s) from the other Gospel accounts,“they play only a minor role [as compared to the angel(s) in the other three narratives] …They have no portentous message to deliver, [and] the single line assigned to them is a question: ‘Why are you weeping?’”55 Because of the angels’ smaller role, the emphasis remains focused on Mary. The reader waits to hear her response. So this pair of verses (12-13) involves Mary’s seeing the angels, her being questioned by them about the reason for her weeping, and her response in which she voices her desire to know where Jesus’ body is.

Verses 14-15 essentially repeat this scenario, but this time, it is Jesus with whom Mary interacts. She first turns to see Jesus standing near her but does not recognize (ουκ ηδει) that it is him (verse 14). Considering how much John emphasizes knowing/recognizing versus not knowing/not recognizing in his Gospel,56 this Greek wording seems to harken back to this theme concerning “the antithesis between knowing and not knowing.”57 Jesus then asks her (in verse 15) the same question the angels asked her: ‘Why are you weeping?’ (τί κλαιεις;) and additionally asks her whom she is seeking. The repetition of this question, as discussed earlier, communicates the fact that she need not weep because the empty tomb is actually very good news. Mary, supposing Jesus to be the gardener, responds in much the same way that she did to the angels, inquiring about the whereabouts of Jesus’ body. It is noteworthy that Mary initially thinks Jesus is the gardener. Her mistaken perception of Jesus cannot help but evoke images of the new Adam (Romans 5:12-21) – the one who came to restore what the first Adam lost. Mary does not yet recognize him, though. “In this verse John uses once more his literary formula of enlightenment through initial misunderstanding; indeed this is the supreme example of the device, for it is not a metaphor but Jesus himself who is mistaken.”58 So the same scenario from verses 12-13 has repeated itself in verses 14-15.

The narrative then shifts to its third and final subdivision. In Mary’s confusion, Jesus calls her by name, causing her to immediately recognize him. Nothing so far in their interaction has “turned the light on” for Mary, but this climactic moment in which Jesus calls her by name changes everything. “Her understanding is limited entirely to her relationship to Jesus as her earthly friend and teacher. …Although she sees how he dies, discovers the tomb empty, sees the angels, and even sees the risen Lord himself, these experiences do not enlighten her. … When she recognizes Jesus it is not through seeing the risen Lord, but through hearing his words. … Neither the empty tomb nor the vision of Jesus lifted the veil for Mary Magdalene, only the words of Jesus.”59 This moment brings the reader back to John 10:3,27 when Jesus says that he calls his own sheep by name and that he knows them, and they know him. The importance of this one word Jesus says to Mary cannot be overstated. “It is as if this one word conveys everything that counts at this moment: ‘I know you. I am the one you know and seek. I am here.’”60

In her excitement, it is inferred that Mary tries to touch or embrace Jesus. Jesus tells her in verse 17 not to hold onto him because he has not yet ascended but to, instead, go to his brothers (πορευου δε προς τους αδελφους μου) and tell them he is ascending to his father and their father. Mary obeys (verse 18), going and announcing (αγγελλουσα) to the disciples what had happened. Perhaps Jesus tells Mary not to touch him because of the holiness of the moment, harkening back to Exodus 19:12-13 when God forbade the Israelites to touch the holy mountain. It seems very probable that this is exactly the point being made because it has been hinted at earlier by the angels’ white clothing and by their sitting at the head and feet of the place of Jesus’ body. That Jesus commissions Mary as his messenger to the disciples is astounding. Not only were women seen as inferior to men in both the broader Greco-Roman culture and in the Jewish culture specifically, but there was also a general mistrust toward women concerning their aptitude and trustworthiness. This is exhibited in Josephus’ writings: “But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”61 So in the midst of a culture that was unsure about resurrection and even more unsure about women, Jesus rose from the grave and presented himself first to a woman. And didn’t stop there – he then called Mary by name and entrusted the universe-shaking news of the resurrection to her.

So what is to be taken from this account as concerns its original context? First, a new precedent has been set with Jesus’ resurrection. No longer is there room for vague, platonic notions concerning the afterlife. Suddenly, when Jesus rises from the grave, all of his words about eternal life have concrete meaning. Eternal life is stronger than death, and eternal life originates in Jesus. His overcoming death has validated everything he said about himself – his identity, his authority, and his kingdom. Because his words have been validated, he is now recognized as the one possessing matchless authority and dominion. Second, what Jesus does with his matchless authority is completely unexpected. Rather than reserving the full revelation of who he is for someone of elite status, he unveils himself first to a woman, defying what society would have expected. His commissioning of Mary has challenged the culture’s understanding of gender and superiority. His revealing of himself first to a woman and calling her by name (while not at all degrading the value of men) points to the truth that all are one in Christ Jesus (Galations 3:28). Knowing Jesus (especially as it is portrayed through John’s theme of knowing versus not knowing) has become the most central factor in salvation, diminishing the power of gender roles and ethnic identity. This has major implications for John’s core audience. In seeing Jesus’ relationship with and commissioning of Mary, this marginalized group encountered a new paradigm, a new value system. Individual identity and authority originate in one’s connection to Jesus, not in how a culture defines a person.

The relevance of these truths is not limited to this passage’s original context. The fact that Jesus fulfilled the words spoken about him through his resurrection continue to identify him as exactly who he said he was: the Son of God (John 3:16), the only way to the Father (John 14:6), and the chief authority of the universe (John 1:1-3). Death itself is subject to him. His authority is unmatched. Yet with his unmatched authority he chooses to reveal his goodness to the marginalized. Just as he did the unthinkable in revealing himself first to Mary Magdalene so many centuries ago, he continues to pursue the broken, the rejected, and the ostracized. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). His seeming wastefulness in using his power to bestow goodness on the lowly reveals the heart of this passage for today. God’s value system is completely counterintuitive to the logical mind. Instead of relating to people in terms of their cultural identity or social status, he disregards man-made barriers altogether and instead engages them according to their true identity – who they are to him.

This has huge ramifications for believers in the twenty-first century. First, it gives us a tangible gauge with which to examine our hearts: Are we moved with compassion for the lowly and marginalized, or are we more concerned with attempting to connect ourselves to the “right” people? Are we seeing the deposit of God inside of every person, or are we measuring people’s value by their popularity and net worth? This gauge on our hearts inevitably influences our perception of how God works and whom he uses to do his work. It removes the false boundaries which say that God mainly uses preachers, seminary students, and Sunday school teachers – or mainly uses men. While it would be incorrect to interpret this passage as a promotion of women to a higher place of authority than men, it is quite sensible to discern in this passage a precedent for women as preachers/ministers. For it was precisely the Gospel message of the resurrected Christ with which Mary was entrusted. According to this narrative, women are not only worthy of a post-resurrection appearance, but are also capable of being entrusted with the words of Jesus.

After considering some in-the-text, behind-the-text, in-front-of-the-text, and other relevant issues, one more clearly discerns the richness and significance of this Gospel narrative. Jesus was not just raised from the dead; he established the precedent of resurrection, eliminating the vagueness which had surrounded the afterlife for so long. And Jesus did not just happen to appear to Mary Magdalene first after his resurrection; he intentionally revealed the biggest surprise in history to an inferior person, breaking long-established boundaries of superiority and value. Jesus is alive, holds all authority, and demonstrates his power in unexpected ways.

Works Cited

John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Aquinas, Thomas Catena Aurea (Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected out of the Works of the Fathers), Volume 4. Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1874.

Audlin, James, “Chaos or Symmetry: A Fresh Look at the Structure of John 20:1-18” in The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II. Editores Volcan Baru, 2014.

Barrett, C.K. The Gospel According to St. John, Second Edition, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978.

Brown, Raymond E. The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times. New York/Ramsey/Toronto: Paulist Press, 1979.

Bultmann, Rudolf The Gospel of John: A Commentary (transl. G.R. Beasley-Murray, R.W.N. Hoare, and J.K. Riches) Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971.

Calvin, John in Christian Classics Ethereal Library: John Calvin’s Commentary. No pages. Cited 31 October 2014. Online:

Culpepper, R. Alan. Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, Homily 21. Trans. By Dom Hurst, Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009.

Hesiod, Works and Days, Op. 375, English Trans. by David W. Tandy and Walter C. Neale. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Homer, The Odyssey, Volume 2, English trans. by A.T. Murray. London: William Heinemann, 1919.

Josephus, Flavius Against Apion, Trans. by John M.G. Barclay. Leiden: Brill., 2007.

Josephus, Flavius Antiquities of the Jews, 18:16-17, Trans. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1880.

Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.219 as printed in The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish Historian. Trans. by William Whiston, 1737.

Keener, Craig The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volumes 1 and 2. Baker Academic, 2010.

Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

Philo, The Works of Philo Judeas, Contemporary of Josephus. Trans. by C.D. Yonge. London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 1855.

Plato, Apology, 40A2-C4, Trans. by James Riddell. Oxford: University Press, 1877.

Plato, Republic, Book 10, Section 614b, Trans. By G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1984.

Pratico, Gary D. and Miles V. Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Robinson, John A.T. The Priority of John. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1985.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Wallace, Daniel B. “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Argument, Outline” No pages. Cited 31 October 2014. Online:

Wiarda, Timothy Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010.

Wright, N.T. “The Resurrection of Resurrection” No pages. Cited 31 October 2014. Online:

www. Cited 31 October 2014.

1 This is my personal translation of the passage. It aligns most closely with the ESV translation but does deviate from it a few times.

2 א, A, Ds, W, Θ, Ψ, 050, f1.13, 33, and Majority Text say εαυ- instead of άύτόύς

3 P66c, א, Ψ, 050, f1, 33., 565., l 844., l 2211, and pc say Μαριαμ instead of Μαρια

4 א* and e omit δυο

5 3,1,2, א, pbo, bo, -, and Ds replace εν λευκοις καθεζομενους (“in white sitting”) with other words

6 A*, D, 579., 1424, pc, and sys add τινα ζητεις (“Whom are you seeking?”) after this question.

7 A, D, Θ, Ψ, 0250, f13, and Majority Text say Μαρια instead of Μαριαμ.

8 D, Θ, latt, and pbo say ραββωνι instead of ραββουνι

9 א, Θ, Ψ, (f13), pc, vgmss, and sy(s).h add και προσεδραμεν αψασθαι (“and she ran up to touch him”) here.

10Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 627.

11William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek: Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 135.

12Mounce, 124.

13James Audlin, “Chaos or Symmetry: A Fresh Look at the Structure of John 20:1-18”

14Daniel B. Wallace, “The Gospel of John: Introduction, Argument, Outline,” 2004

15John Ashton, Understanding the Fourth Gospel. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 503.

16Craig Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, Volume 2 (Baker Academic, 2010), 1169.

17Keener, 1179.

18Keener, 1169.

19 John A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John. (London: SCM Press Ltd, 1985), p. 294.

20 C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, Second Edition, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978), 561.

21Rudolf Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (transl. G.R. Beasley-Murray, R.W.N. Hoare, and J.K. Riches) Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1971, 11.

22Bultmann, 11.

23Keener, 84.

24Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times (New York/Ramsey/Toronto: Paulist Press, 1979), 59.

25Keener, Volume 1, 155.

26Brown, 59.

27Brown, 22.

28Brown, 60.

29Keener, Volume 1, 29.

30Keener, 27-28.

31Keener, 30.

32Keener, 32.


34Keener, 17.

35Keener, 155.

36 Homer, The Odyssey, Volume 2, English Trans. by A.T. Murray (London: William Heinemann, 1919), 435.

37 Plato, Apology, 40A2-C4, English Trans. by James Riddle (Oxford: University Press,1877),

38 Plato, Republic, Book 10, Section 614b, Trans. by G.M.A. Grube (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1984)

39 Hesiod, Works and Days, Op. 375, English Trans. by David W. Tandy and Walter C. Neale (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996)

40Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew: Grammar, Second Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 466.

41N.T. Wright, “The Resurrection of Resurrection” in Bible Review

42Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18:16-17, (Trans. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company,1880)

43Philo, The Works of Philo Judeas, Contemporary of Josephus (Trans. by C.D. Yonge; London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden, 1855), 415.


45Such as Miriam (Exodus 2:1-10; 15:20-21), Deborah (Judges 4), and Esther (the book of Esther)

46Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, 2.201, Trans. by John M.G. Barclay (Leiden: Brill., 2007)

47John Calvin in Christian Classics Ethereal Library: John Calvin’s Commentary calls Mary’s weeping in verse 11 “useless” and “carnal.”

48John Chrysostom, Hom. Lxxxvi as quoted in Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea,(Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected out of the Works of the Fathers), Volume 4. Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1874.

49St. Augustine, Tr. Cxxi. 1, as quoted in Aquinas

50Gregory, Hom. Xxv., as quoted in Aquinas

51Keener, 1191.

52 Bernard, John II, 656 as quoted in John A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John

53Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies, Homily 21 (Trans. By Dom Hurst, Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009), 159.

54Keener, 1188.

55Ashton, 507.

56This word is used approximately 120 times in the Gospel. (

57Bultmann, 118.

58 Barrett, 564

59 R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 144.

60Timothy Wiarda, Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 51.

61 Flavius Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.219 as printed in The Genuine Works of Flavius Josephus, the Jewish Historian, (Trans. by William Whiston, 1737)

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