John 20:3-8:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.

Why did John choose to mention three times that he beat Peter to the tomb?

  • 2
    A possible answer is the contested authorship of the ending of John which I briefly addressed in my answer to this question hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/854/367 There's significant discussion regarding the ending of John and how disjointed it seems (specifically, chapter 20). This has led some to hypothesize that John's gospel has been edited a few times. These could be insertions from the Johannine community revising an original document.
    – swasheck
    May 2 '12 at 21:36
  • 6
    So John was the faster runner, but Peter was the stronger swimmer. I'll bet James would have been a better cyclist if only it had been invented.
    – Jon Ericson
    May 2 '12 at 22:36
  • 1
    I'd always heard this was one way John was able to make it clear he was talking about himself without using his own name, like "the apostle Jesus loved," etc. May 4 '12 at 3:40

The issue that John is addressing is that no one went into the tomb unaccompanied. John arrived first, but did not go in. His testimony is that he did not disturb anything before Peter got there.

"...who was behind him" does not emphasize that John was first but that Peter, and not another, was second.

The final reference simply clarified which "other disciple" is being referred to.He is just saying that he one who arrived first followed Peter in, and not another disciple that perhaps arrived third.


Arthur J. Droge ('The Status of Peter in the Fourth Gospel: A Note on John 18:10-11', Journal of Biblical Literature 109.2 [1990]: 307–311) says a number of commentators have observed that the Fourth Gospel exhibits a marked tendency to exalt the Beloved Disciple at the expense of Peter, with frequent episodes in which the Beloved Disciple and Peter appear as rivals.

Christopher W. Skinner ('Who Was the Beloved Disciple') says the beloved disciple responds to Jesus in a way that the narrator considers praiseworthy, while Peter expresses confusion, doubt, and misunderstanding before he denies that he knows Jesus. In a sense, the beloved disciple gets everything right: twice he is found in a location that indicates his loyalty to Jesus (John 18:15-18, John 19:26-27); he responds appropriately by believing at the empty tomb, even when he does not understand (John 20:3-8); he also recognises the risen Jesus from afar while the other disciples do not (John 21:7). In what is probably the most important comment about the beloved disciple, the narrator depicts him as “leaning back on the chest of Jesus”. Each of these depictions reinforces the idea that the beloved disciple should be seen as an ideal follower of Jesus — one with whom any faithful reader can and should identify.

It is only in Luke and John that Peter, or any disciple, went to the tomb of Jesus. The author of John rarely contradicts Luke's Gospel, which may have been read by some in the Johannine community, but sometimes provides further information that alters our understanding of what Luke had said. John knew that Luke portrays Peter as entering the tomb and seeing Jesus' clothes lying there, so if there was another disciple who also ran to the tomb, Peter must have been the first to actually enter the tomb. However, it would not be a contradiction if the other disciple outran Peter and arrived first at the tomb. In Luke, Peter is the disciple who receives full credit for verifying the story that the women had brought back, but in John he has to share that credit.

The use of repetition, typically three times, was a rhetorical technique used at times in both Luke (and Acts) and John to verify the facts stated.


If you pay close attention to John you see a pattern. First you see him laying on the bosom of his savior at the feast. The next time he mentions himself he is at the foot of the cross. Next the outrunning of Peter to the tomb of His God. Then we find him and Peter on a boat with others. John was the first to recognize the voice of the Christ.

Why? Could it be because he spent so much time on his bosom? Then finally who is the first to follow Jesus? Peter? No it was John! Maybe that's why John calls himself the disciple whom Jesus Loved? He spent so much time listening to the heartbeat of the Christ he was confident in his love for him. Maybe God used Johns pride to teach us something about clinging to our Savior.


What's not as important here is that John got there first or ran but that Peter was the first to enter. You can ask yourself why would John and the others not run also into the tomb but instead wait for Peter. It is because in Matthew 16, it was to Peter that Jesus gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, now he is the one in charge, also referring to Acts 15 where Peter was the one with the final say as to whether it was necessary for a Christian to be circumcised. Peter being in charge was where the first church was founded, John is simply emphasizing the authority that Peter now has.

  • Peter was, and should've been, persuasive in Ac 15. But James spoke last 15:13-21. Sadly Peter soon afterward feared him in Gal 2:11-14. (I like your answer, although I feel Peter's natural assertiveness may have played more of a role than others' memory of Mt 16.) Anyway I was curious what you think of that interplay
    – Walter S
    May 19 '20 at 5:43

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