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John 11:35 (the shortest verse in the Bible?) says simply:

Jesus wept.

How should we understand this? Tearful? Sobbing? What was the nature of his weeping?

And what was the reason? Sadness at Lazurus' death? (Unlikely, because He knew about that already.) Sadness at the grief caused to Mary and Martha? Sadness at the lack of faith (if that was the case)? Or something else?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Greek word is δακρύω; it means to shed tears. The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament suggests that the aorist here is inceptive: i.e. "he burst into tears." He was sobbing; it was full out weeping. This is the plain and natural reading of the text.

This is a beautiful passage. Jesus, fully human, is capable of a full range of human emotions. To claim that he knew what he was about to do and therefore couldn't have been weeping for Lazarus destroys the rich emotional life of Jesus that we have in the Gospels (and Psalms). Obviously he knew all about his victory the whole time. But he genuinely wept on other occasions as well.

Jesus, fully divine, is capable of affections in a manner we do not understand, particularly as we do not understand much about the hypostatic union (the union of his natures). Our rationalistic tendency is to use reason to "flatten God out". Resist this tendency; from our standpoint, God is a paradoxical being.

Jesus has just dealt ever so tenderly with Mary and Martha, showing each exactly the kind of love she needed (Martha was a little collected than Mary, so he talked to her more in depth). Given the placement of the crying in the story, it is unlikely that he is crying over their wavering (though note—rather impressive) faith. Rather, he is crying over the tragedy that one of his own has died. And yes, that is also crying over the grief of Mary and Martha.

Yahweh cares deeply when his godly ones die. —Psalm 116:15

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. —Psalm 56:8

Francis Schaeffer, who loved this passage, comments on the implications of this text in The God Who is There:

The Christian never faces the dilemma posed in Camus' book La Peste. It simply is not true that he either has to side with the doctor against God by fighting the plague, or joining with the priest on God's side and thus be much less than human by not fighting the plague... Let us go to the tomb of Lazarus. As Jesus stood there, He not only wept, but He was angry. The exegesis of the Greek of the passages of John 11:33 and 38 is clear. Jesus, standing in front of the tomb of Lazarus, was angry at death and at the abnormality of the world—the destruction and distress caused by sin. In Camus' words, Christ hated the plague. He claimed to be God, and He could hate the plague without hating Himself as God.

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It's best to see Jesus' weeping within the context of John's water motif. Though John doesn't use the word water here, several elements indicate he saw in Jesus' tears the healing water welling up within the Son of Man.

John's Water Motif

Water is an important core symbol within the Gospel of John.

  • John the Baptist states three times that he baptizes in water (1:26, 31, 33)
  • Jesus turns water into wine (2:1-10)
  • Jesus tells Nicodimus he must be born of water and the spirit (3:5)
  • John baptizes at Aenon near Salim because “there was much water there.” (3:23)
  • Jesus promises the woman by the well living water (4:4-28)
  • The lame man can;t get healed in the troubled waters of Bethesda (5:7)
  • Jesus walks on water (6:19)
  • Jesus invites the thirsty to come to him and drink (7:37-39)
  • Jesus heals blind man in pool of Siloam (9:6-7)
  • Jesus washes his disciples feet (13:4-5)
  • Water flows from Jesus'pierced side (19:34)

In the early water scenes, John defines two waters, an earthly water used in ritual and tradition and a heavenly water, symbolizing the Spirit, offered by Jesus.

  • John says Jesus' baptism in the Holy Spirit surpasses his baptism in water (1:19-34).
  • The headwaiter says Jesus’ “water-turned-wine” is better than the choice wine/water which came before (2:1-11).
  • Jesus says his "living water" is greater than the water of Jacob's well (4:4-26).
  • Jesus’ healing is more effective than the troubled water in the pool of Bethesda (5:1-9)
  • Jesus implies that his “living water” is greater than the water in the feast's water ceremony (7:37-39).

See my answer to What does it mean to be born of water? for more.

A Spring Within

But Jesus offer of "living water" leads to an imporant question. The Samaritan woman recognizes that Jesus has no physical means to draw from the well. She asks, "Where can you get this water (4:11)"? Jesus responds by telling her its an internal spring.

The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (4:14)

In the later half of John, the narrative increasingly focuses on Jesus' body as the primary source of this spring of living water. Christ’s invitation to the thirsty in John 7:38-39 likewise describes Jesus' body as the source of living water.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

It's important to note the ambiguity in the Greek here. The Scripture, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water' may refer to the believer as the flows source as it does in John 4:14 and it may refer to Jesus as the source, pointing to the climatic flow of water from Jesus' side in John 19:34.

But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (19:34)

While a promise of an internal spring is given to beleivers, it is from Jesus' body that the narrative depicts a literal secretion. John 19:34 demonstrates that Jesus' body is both like and unlike Jacob's well and the pool of Bethesda. He is a literal container of the heavenly water.

The Water Welling Up Within Jesus

And the flow of water in John 19:34 isn't the first time John points to the water welling up within Jesus. We see this climatic flow from the body of Jesus forshadowed in two previous scenes. The first is found in Jesus' healing of the man born blind.

Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud. (9:6)

I'll leave the fuller interpretation of this scene for another time.

The second is found in the weeping of Jesus in John 11.

The first indication John wants us to see the heavenly water in Jesus weeping is the word used for Jesus' weeping. In John 11, the reader is confronted by a number of people weeping.

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping (11:33).

But the word used for Jesus' weeping is not the same word used for theirs. The word used for the women's weeping is κλαίω. It means to “wail and moan.” δακρύω, the word used for Jesus' weeping on the other hand, means to "shed tears." It is the watery tears of Jesus that John wants us to see.

The second indicaiton John wants us to see in these tears the heavenly water is the word used for Jesus' emotion. John 11:33 states,

Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled (ταράσσω).

ταράσσω only appears a few times in John. Later, we find it used of Jesus' emotions in John 12:27, 13:21, 14:1 and 14:27, all of which surround the coming hour of his glorification. The word is only used one time prior to Jesus distress at the tomb of Lazarus. In John 5:7, the lame man responds to Jesus,

Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.

The Greek word which the NAS translates as "stirred up" is the same word used for Jesus troubling in John 11:33.

It appears like the healing waters of Bethesda in John 5, Jesus, himself, is being stirred up. The tears which flow from his eyes are a demonstration of the divine water that is overflowing within. But this time, unlike Bethesda, the healing water in Jesus is reaching out to the impotent/lifeless man.

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Can I at least get a reason why this answer was downvoted? I can't fix what I don't know. Thanks. – Matthew Miller May 21 '13 at 5:52
I didn't downvote (I didn't vote on this question at all, one way or the other), but I can tell you why I didn't upvote. Your response is interesting, but in my opinion it's fanciful and reads a lot more into a simple action than I think is warranted. Again, this is only my opinion and we clearly have different hermeneutics/approaches to scripture. You are in good company in church history for an allegorical/metaphorical interpretation like this (although I'm not sure about this specific application), hence why I did not downvote. – Dan Jun 5 '13 at 19:25
Please don't let my answer discourage you from continuing to post on here using this approach. I don't downvote people when I disagree with them. I only downvote for low quality responses, inaccurate or unsubstantiated claims, or some kind of offensive language (e.g. "...clearly all who believe in X are idiots"). I just didn't want to leave you hanging since no one seems to be giving you any feedback. – Dan Jun 5 '13 at 19:27
As a positive comment about this answer, I appreciate that you show your work for why you interpreted this metaphorically/allegorically/fancifully/whatever approach you call this, I just simply disagree and so have not voted one way or the other. – Dan Jun 5 '13 at 19:29
Thank you @DanO'Day for the feedback. I do appreciate it. In fact I appreciate it more than an upvote. God bless. – Matthew Miller Jun 5 '13 at 20:43

To me this is one of the most heart rendering passages in the Bible.

One of the secondary theses of sensus plenior is that though Jesus was God in the flesh, he did not use one ounce of deity, otherwise he would not have been tempted in every way that we are, and would have forfeited being our high priest. But he thought equality with God not something to be grasped. This is the opposite of Adam who trespassed on the holiness/separation of God by grasping the fruit.

Therefor Jesus had to discover from the scriptures who he was and what he was to do. By reading the childish riddles of sensus plenior, he discovered all of it. The Father prepared 'dinner theater' for him acting out the various lessons of the hidden scriptures. As he role played in them, he demonstrated that he not only knew what the scriptures said, but that he was willing to face the cross.

In his baptism he plays the role of the firmament, Moses in the basket, Noah's ark, and more. But the cost to him was merely getting wet. In the temptation in the wilderness he played the role of Aaron, Israel, and others as he offer obedience as the better sacrifice. But it only cost him being hungry and thirsty.

Other roles that he played in the Father's drama were of little or no cost: a few scared men in a boat, from the war of the nine kings he fed four and five thousand. Though they had little cost, they encouraged him for being on the right track as he pushed toward the cross, each miracle being an 'atta boy' from the Father.

It is announce that Lazarus is sick, Jesus understands the picture of the cross that is being painted. Lazarus is the same name as the high priest Eliezer. Jesus must be made a high priest after his resurrection. Prior to the cross he is a 'sickly' high priest like Lazarus, since he is not able to perform as a priest being from the wrong tribe. Lazarus must die.

But Jesus, fully confident of his own resurrection has no concept of death. It is a hypothetical to him just as it is to us. Other people die and they will live again. There is no sense of an emotion when he announces that Lazarus is dead. How did he know he was dead? He had to be in order for the 'drama' to take place.

33 ¶ When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

This groaning was deeply troubled groan at the cost of the dinner theater. He knew Lazarus would live, but to see the great grief that it caused to the observers of it. And if this grief is caused by the death of a brother, how much more grief will be caused at his own death, the hope of mankind, which is being foreshadowed by the event?

How this grief adds to his continuing temptation to not face the cross. If only there were another way! The realization that the divine attribute which he willingly did not grasp were a small price. But being made to be sin, being separated from his Father, God himself to be separated at the cross. The weight of the personal cost, as the time has grown near for him, has been placed on his shoulders.

The dear cost to his friends pierces his heart and alerts him to the dear price of the cross. The deep groan is preview of that of Gethsemane.

And Jesus wept.

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This is perhaps one of the most profound truths of Scripture: moving the heart of God.

We start out with the 2 sisters: Mary, who sat at Jesus's feet and heard His Word, and Martha, the one whom the Lord said," Martha, Martha, you are careful and troubled about many things. One thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that GOOD PART, which shall not be taken away from her." This is after she said to Jesus,"Lord dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she may help me." In John 11:2, this is the same Mary who "annointed the Lord('s feet) with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair."

It is important to know who this 'Mary' was: we find this account of her in Luke 7:37-38,

"And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisees's house, brought an alabaster box full of ointment, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and wipe His feet with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet, and anointed them with the ointment".

(Vs 39*)"Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, 'This man, IF He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this that touched Him: for she IS a sinner."*

This of course refers to the 'type' of sin Mary was guilty of, which was most likely fornication, perhaps prostitution considering the 'ointment' and it's value.

But how Jesus responds to her is indicative of the future miracle He will perform in her life: (vs 47)"Wherefore I say unto thee(Simon the Pharisee), her sins, which are many, are forgiven: for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And then He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven."

Mary 'poured out' her life on the feet of the Lord, not just expressing sorrow for the life she lived but evoking the response of tenderness and mercy of the Lord, to whom she 'owed' her life. She 'supplicated', letting the Lord 'feel' her contrition and showing Him it was worth the risk of forgiving her. This is a High Priest who can be 'touched' with the feelings of our infirmities(Heb. 5:15) and was in all points tempted like we are, without sin.

So then we get to John 11, and what we must 1st point out is that Jesus LOVED Martha, Mary, and Lazarus(vs 5) He was not indifferent towards them, as some 'impersonal' force in the universe, but was disposed to act on their behalf. He knows what is going to happen(vs 11), but what is important is how it happens.

In vs 21, Martha meets Him and tells Him,"Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died."

Then the dialogue continues and Jesus reassures her faith, telling her, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die. Believe thou this?"

"Yea Lord, I believe that you are the Christ of God; which should come into the world".

Instead of a miracle, it seems Martha got an altar call, based on her confession of faith, but when Mary came and fell down at His feet saying the same thing her sister Martha said(vs 32), seeing her weeping, He "groaned in the Spirit" and was troubled"(vs 33)

Then we have the shortest verse in the bible "Jesus wept".(vs 35)

Both sisters said the same thing, what was the difference?

The Good Part.

Jesus loved them both, and was disposed to act on their behalf. But what Martha received was an affirmation of her faith, Mary 'moved Him to tears' with her supplication, falling at His feet(again). The 'groanings' are the same groanings of Rom. 8:26, which the Spirit making intercession does on our behalf.

But Jesus once more needs to remind Martha to "believe",(vs 40) before He prays to the Father, then declares,"Lazarus, come forth!"

All this is recorded for us, not only to know the power of Jesus over death, and that we can have faith for the seemingly impossible, but to know how to prevail on God. Mary's great sin was cancelled by His great love for her; her response was to sit at His feet and choose the "Good Part", waiting until His Presense arrived and then implored Him, which caused Him to weep. But unlike people who weep without consolation, the Lord moved Heaven to return Lazarus and likewise today, "nothing is impossible for them who believe".

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