There’s an odd verse in the resurrection story in John. After Mary Mags comes running back to the disciples with news that the corpse of Jesus is missing, Peter and the B.D. (Beloved Disciple) sprint to the tomb. They both look at the grave clothes lying there.

Here’s the verse that’s crazy: “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:8-9)

Now, if you’re religious, and you’ve heard this story before, you probably didn’t notice anything unusual in the sentence. But here’s the crazy thing:

What did the other disciple, the B.D., actually believe?

Most people respond, “the resurrection,” but nobody has told them that Jesus has been raised. The author tells us in the very next sentence they didn’t understand the scriptures or that Jesus must be raised. There is no content, no X that the B.D. can believe in. All they know is that someone has taken the body. There is no gospel, no angelic announcement, no one telling them that Jesus is alive. But the B.D. believes.

We so often assume that “believing” means “agreeing that such-and-such must be true,” but what we get here is something that precedes even knowing what it is you’re supposed to believe. The B.D. just looks at some folded laundry and believes. Something in him clicks, and he can’t even put his finger on what it is yet.

We use “believe” in this way when we talk about believing in yourself, believing in someone else, believing in a vision. Faith. “Believe” in this context doesn’t mean accepting a statement as a fact—it means this desperate, hopeful something at the core of our existence.

We do not yet know where God is taking us, but we are embarked on the journey, following where God leads.The invitation to believe is not about blind faith, but about trusting the one who leads us.

7 thoughts on “Believing

    • Not in John. He talks about “raising this temple,” and God raising up the dead on the last day. He alludes to “being lifted up” in John 3. But the verse following says, “they did not understand” the scriptures that he must rise from the dead. What is there for the B.D. to believe? All Mary has said is that “they have taken the body of my Lord.” Does he believe in the resurrection before he hears that it has happened?

      AFter they return home, Mary shows up and says she has seen the Lord. I just find it a very unusual place to say, “he believed.” If he did indeed believe the resurrection, he believed it before anyone told him!

      • You said:

        ” in John 3. But the verse following says, “they did not understand” the scriptures that he must rise from the dead.”

        I wonder, though if John did understand the moment he saw the empty tomb with the grave clothes lying there? He had not understood earlier, but what if his belief was a shock of understanding at that moment? What if it all came together for him right then?

        Also, you said that Jesus did not predict His resurrection in the book of John. Did He predict it (more clearly) in other Gospels? If so, then John would have heard Him say so.

        Another way to look at this verse might be to go back to chapter 1 and consider John’s statement regarding why he was writing this Gospel. He specifically says it is so others will “believe.” Taking us to the tomb and exposing his “AHA” moment might be the whole crux of his message.

        I’m not disagreeing with you, just wondering if John wasn’t being rather brilliant in his presentation of what he believed was true, certainly at the time of his writing. I mean, it’s not like he was writing concurrently to the experience of entering the tomb. This is hindsight. We have to consider what he is trying to convey years away from the actual event in the recounting of it.

      • Yeah, I definitely think belief is the theme of John, and the introduction and conclusion of the book really frame it. And I think you may be right, that John (or the community of John) is reading back into the story. (I love the way the author seems a bit envious of the spotlight Peter gets– as if he’s saying, “Sure, Peter was the first in the tomb, but I got there first.”)

        I just find this construction really puzzling. I know the Greek “gar” doesn’t really function the way our conjunctions do, so it’s unclear what the author means by saying, “they didn’t understand.” Did John believe in spite of not understanding? Or because he didn’t understand? Or is it just that they didn’t understand the scriptures, but he had an inkling of belief anyway? Mary seems pretty convinced that someone stole the body, but if the B.D. believes the resurrection, he doesn’t share his suspicions. As I said, I find it puzzling.

        I think how we read John in light of the other gospels shifts how we interpret it, but I like to look at their discontinuity rather than try to harmonize them. John seems to be saying something about the nature of belief in his gospel. For example, he says that if the religious leaders really knew God, they would know Jesus, and vice versa. I may be reading too much into it, but I think for John, intuition of who God is is just as important as the scriptures. Maybe moreso.

      • Well, I can definitely get on board with this:

        “but I think for John, intuition of who God is is just as important as the scriptures. Maybe moreso.”

        Absolutely! Hey, thanks for the great discussion! I miss talking about the Scriptures like this a lot.

  1. The disciple saw the linen and the image of Jesus. i.e. The Shroud of Turin. He saw and believed. Without understanding the scriptures which said He must rise after 3 days.

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