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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?

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    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, 2012 at 21:36
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    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. May 2, 2012 at 22:36
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    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, 2012 at 3:40

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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.

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  • Short but very insightful comment +1. "It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true"
    – Marshall
    Dec 19, 2021 at 20:35
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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.

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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.

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Peter had an impulsive character. In John 21:7 we read about him "and threw himself into the sea". And here he runs into the tomb.

John was thoughtful. He looked in, saw what he needed and stood outside thinking about it. [I suggest we can, like him, reasonably conjecture]. And since he ran fastest he had more time to think than Peter, and to wonder, unlike impulsive Peter, but when he was ready he did go in and believed.

Mary was emotional at the tomb. She "stood weeping beside the tomb "John 20:11

I think John mentions these individual differences possibily for several reasons. One of these being that God through John reassures us, that we can be our individual selves when we come to Him.

"There is one body, but many parts" 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

We bring our uniqueness to Jesus and despite our diversity, He gives us unity in the one body.

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It was very risky to go to the tomb of Christ especially in those three days, when Roman guards protected it and, in general, since He was considered as an enemy of Rome (that was the title of His guilt: "The [self-appointing and illegitimate] King of Jews", then any of His associate could be also caught and prosecuted. For that reason, the disciples hid themselves in a house with doors closed, due to fear of slanderous Jews and Roman authorities. Therefore, John and Peter show extreme courage when they, and only they from the disciples, run towards the tomb to check whether the stories of women were right.

We can be confident that both Peter and John ran at maximum speed they were able to run; and then question arises: why did not John make his pace slower and run in rhythm of Peter? But this would be totally unnatural and fake discretion and politeness! Who on earth would have thought of any etiquette, discretion, or politeness when such an unspeakable miracle, the Lord's resurrection, was intuited and suspected! Thus, John simply speaks about a bare fact that he, perhaps because of younger age, was running much quicker than Peter. John needed mentioning of this fact in order to show what happened next, that he had enough time to stop at the entrance of the tomb and contemplate. This was enough for him and he entered not even when Peter came and entered. By that John humbly shows that his faith was most stable, because it was based on highest faculty of human essence: mind and contemplation, which is mind's activity. He was loftier in his mind than Peter and Thomas who demanded physical attestation and touch of the intellectually graspable reality of the Resurrection.

Logic of this contemplation must have gone like that: 1. If anybody has stolen the body then there are just 3 possibilities: i) disciples; ii) Jews; iii) Romans. i) possibility is excluded, because the most faithful of the disciples were hiding in fear, so how could they find in themselves such an uncommon valor as to steal the Lord's body from a tomb protected by Romans? 0 possibility! ii) Neither Jews could steal the body for that would be radically against their intent to eliminate any notion of Christ's resurrection in three days; iii) Nor Romans could do it, for they were specially appointed and commissioned to protect the tomb, so to fail the mission would imply a punishment for them, to say nothing to intentionally spoil the mission by stealing the body - again 0 possibility obtains. And with those three 0 possibilities, one still could think that some extremely audacious aficionado of Christ (for instance, Thomas, who was not always with the other 12, or some apostle(s) from the 70 rest of the apostles) dared to move the stone, enter the tomb and steal the body, then he would have done this together with all those wrappings and linens, for he would be altogether a stupid thief to do this difficult and time-consuming thing in the tomb and expose thus himself to the imminent and unavoidable danger!

What remains? For John, there remains the guess and faith of the Resurrection of Lord. Thus, he, John, is more blessed than other apostles, for they have seen Him resurrected by physical eyes and believed, whereas John believed even without seeing Him with physical eyes (later he did also that) in His resurrection. His purpose was to convey exactly this when he emphasized his swift running and his not entering the tomb. But as a possessor of virtue of humility, he does this in a very misty, oblique, shrouded way.

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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.

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  • 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, 2020 at 5:43
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I think that it is important to note God’s cosmic complexity in his plan for our salvation. In these biblical stories we can make conclusions about Peter’s lack of cognitive inference or maybe John’s pride in this particular story that was mentioned above. But God used Peter (despite his flaws) to establish his church as he told him he would (Matthew 16:18). And at the same time, also having a particular plan for John and his seemingly deeper spiritual understanding to carry out his will and write the book of Revelation. God uses our diverse sets of strengths and our weaknesses to carry out a divine plan much larger than us and anything our human minds can ever imagine. (Ephesians 1:10)

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