In the Gospel of John, during Jesus' Farewell Discourse during his last meal with his disciples (chapters 13-17), the following statements are present in the account:

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus answered, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward." (13:36)

[Jesus is speaking:] ...and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (14:4-5)

[Jesus is again speaking:] But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, 'Where are you going?' (16:4-5)

Uh, Jesus, didn't Simon Peter and Thomas just ask you this?

What scholars argue for a theory of multiple conflated sources as an explanation for this (and what is their argument)? What scholars argue for a unified textual perspective, where this is perhaps a literary device (or something else)? Please explain (and cite sources).

All quotations from the Gospel of John are from the NRSV. New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


My Unified Perspective


I am one scholar who views it from a unified perspective. My particular argument for this immediately follows here. I will then note some other versions of unified views, and just a second hand listing of non-unified views.


Uh, Jesus, didn't Simon Peter and Thomas just ask you this?

Yes, they had. Now the OP only offers two possible solutions, "multiple conflated sources" or "perhaps a literary device," but does leave open "or something else" as a solution to the statement.

My perspective takes the "or something else" approach. It views John (who I deem is the author, but even if one felt he was not, the argument remains the same) as giving an historically accurate record of the event (so from a literary perspective, it is not a "device" on his part). I consider the record accurate, even if written for a general theological purpose (as most scholars recognize part of the book's agenda to be). While the text in question may be a direct quote or summary paraphrasing of what Jesus said, the point is that the author of the text is simply giving an account of Jesus making the statement at this point in the discourse.

This is important, because now the primary question shifts to not why the author included it (that is still secondary, but since it is an historical account, that alone in part answers the point of why), but instead to addressing the OP's hypothetical question of Jesus quoted above, namely:

  1. What is Jesus stating by this?
  2. Why did he state it?

Context Answers

If one assumes that both Jesus and the author of John are intending to be coherent (as would normally be the case when people are communicating), then the book of John itself answers the questions. Follow the key contextual points from the dialog in the book (quotes from NKJV):

13:33 Christ: "Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer.
You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, 'Where [ὅπου] I am going [ὑπάγω],
you cannot come,' [cf. Jn 8:21] so now I say to you."

Christ introduces to His disciples the fact he is "going" some "where" that they cannot go to at this time.

13:36 Peter: "Lord, where [ποῦ] are You going [ὑπάγω]?"

Peter keyed in on the point of Christ going some where. This is the first of two questions that elicits the OP's question here. Peter uses the interrogative form ποῦ, and thus is asking a question.1

13:36 Christ: "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow
Me afterward."

Christ knows Peter's distress, and calms him by first letting him know that Peter cannot follow Him now, but later. He does not yet answer the "where" question. Peter expresses his desire to follow Him now by questioning why he cannot do so and declaring his loyalty unto death (v.37), which Christ then reveals is not the case through His prophecy of Peter's coming denials (v.38). Then Christ gives some further words of comfort in 14:1, but also begins to strongly hint at the answer of "where":

14:2-4  Christ: "In My Father's house are many mansions ... I go [πορεύομαι] to prepare
a place for you. ... I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where [ὅπου] I am, 
there you may be also. And where [ὅπου] I go [ὑπάγω] you know, and the way you know."

So Christ explicitly states that "where" he is going, "you [the disciples] know" (οἴδατε; plural, indicating he speaks to all disciples, not just Peter specifically). They know "where" at the very least because he just hinted that His "Father's house" had much room, and that He was going to "prepare a place" there for them. However, the implication is missed by Thomas, who sides with Peter, stating:

14:5  Thomas: "Lord, we do not know where [ποῦ] You are going [ὑπάγεις], and how can we
know the way?"

The use of the interrogative ποῦ shows that Thomas is still asking a question himself of "where," denying the assertion Christ just made that they did know. He also adds that, because they do not know, then how could they possibly know the way (the "how" is intimately tied to not knowing the "where"). Christ clarifies further because they are hearing, yet not really hearing, what He is saying. He does so by answering explicitly the second question of "how":

14:6 Christ: "I am the way ... No one comes to the Father except through Me."

Christ is the way to the Father, which is just repeating what was essentially stated in 14:1-3, that Christ was going to the Father (to the Father's house), and Christ would return to bring them to dwell wherever He (Christ) is to be. After a diversion in which Christ associates Himself directly as the revelation of the Father, based on Phillip's request to see the Father (14:8-11), Christ then very explicitly states the answer to "where" He is going:

14:12 Christ: "... I go [πορεύομαι] to My Father."

That statement is the direct, simple answer to both Peter and Thomas's questions of "where." He also gives an answer as well to the "why" Peter could not yet follow, for there are works to be done that Peter and the disciples needed a Helper sent to them, which only would happen if Christ went away (14:12-18). He reiterates later in the discourse the same simple answer of "where," in fact noting He had said it for the purpose of teaching another lesson, but nevertheless, clearly stating again "where":

14:28 Christ: "You have heard Me say to you, 'I am going away [ὑπάγω] and coming back
to you.' If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, 'I am going [πορεύομαι]
to the Father,' for My Father is greater than I."

Then he notes the importance of this revelation:

14:29 Christ: "And now I have told you before it comes, that when it does come
to pass, you may believe."

The "before it comes" being his departure, return, and where He is going. After further discourse, he makes another statement about what He is revealing to them:

15:15 Christ: "No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his 
master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father
I have made known to you."

He declares again the knowledge the disciples have, which in part includes "where" He is going. They are His friends, they are to believe, and they need this exhortation, along with what comes in chapter 15, to prepare in order:

16:1 Christ: "... that you should not be made to stumble."

They would not stumble because:

16:4 Christ: "But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember
that I told you of them."

Then we come to the key verse in question:

16:5 Christ: "But now I go away [ὑπάγω] to Him who sent Me, and none of you asks Me, 
'Where are You going [ὑπάγεις]?'"

Christ is again reiterating "where" He is going, and then makes a factual statement to them. He is not saying:

  1. None of you have asked me "Where are You going?" (a contradiction of the preceding context), as the verb is present tense, not perfect.
  2. Rhetorically, "None of you ask me, 'Where are you going?'," where Jesus is in some way surprised that no one is asking this. In other words, it is not saying something equivalent to the idea, "Why are none of you asking, 'Where are You going?'" (also a contradiction of the preceding context).

Analyzing John 16:5b

The Greek of the latter part of the verse is:

καὶ οὐδεὶς  ἐξ   ὑμῶν ἐρωτᾷ με, Ποῦ      ὑπάγεις;
and not one from you  asks  me, where(?) are you going?

The ἐρωτᾷ is the present third person singular of ἐρωτάω ("he/she/it asks"). Because of it being a contract verb of this particular form, it could be parsed as either indicative or subjunctive mood. However, it is properly parsed as indicative because the subject is οὐδεὶς rather than μηδείς, the former being used with indicative mood, the latter generally with other moods (both mean "not one" in this context), since the negation terms (οὐ and μή) in those compound words generally function with those moods in Koine Greek.2

But there are still two ways to read this present tense verb with a negative associated to it. Christ is either making a declarative statement or an interrogative one in this context. Either...

  • He is stating a fact for some purpose: "Not one from you asks me, 'Where do you go?'"
  • He is asking the whole statement as a rhetorical question (I've bracketed some extra English words to convey the idea): "Not one from you is asking me [again, are you?], 'Where do you go?'"; where Jesus is rhetorically expecting an affirmative answer to that overall question from the disciples—a "correct, sir" response (or at least no further reiteration of the question already twice asked).

Either idea keeps the unity of the work, but I believe the second idea of asking an overarching question fits the context better.

However, if the first idea, a statement of fact, Christ is reiterating the point to the disciples that He just revealed "where" He was going, so they have no more need now to ask "Where are you going?" They should have gotten that fact by now. It is somewhat like a subtle imperative implying "Do not ask this again, because I have told you already, so you have no need to ask."

If the second idea, the whole statement being an overarching rhetorical question, Christ was doing a similar point as the first idea, only through a question that expects an affirmative response; though the affirmative could use a negative, i.e. "No, no one is asking that anymore."3

In either case, I believe there is a sense of mild rebuking involved. His point being that none of them should now have a doubt about "where" He is going, if they have been listening to His discourse.

Christ will still reiterate a few more times where He is going: 16:10, 16:16 (following which the disciples get confused with the timing of His going and returning, especially as it relates the reasoning that He goes to the Father), and 16:28 (following which the disciples think they have grasped all that He has been saying).


A unified view fits the context and grammar perfectly, without need to even call into question a conjecture of conflating sources, for there is no conflict in the logic of Jesus making the statement/posing the question.

Others Who View as Unified

Gerald L. Borchert in John 12–21 (Vol. 25B, The New American Commentary [ Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002]) takes a unified view. First, he notes some others who also take it so:

Lagrange sought to explain the situation by emphasizing the nyn (“now”) and thus to focus on the current situation over against the earlier references so that the disciples did not need “now” to ask those questions because they were further informed [referring to M. J. Lagrange, Evangile selon Saint Jean (Paris: Gabalda, 1948), 417–418]. Dodd argued similarly but restructured the statement at 14:4 to imply that the disciples do know the way but not the goal [referring to C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: University Press, 1958), 412–13, n. 1.]. But such a manipulative rendering has inadequate support (164).

Borchert himself feels too much emphasis is on the temporal sequence of the discourse when bringing up the question itself about John 16:5 being a contradiction. He emphasizes:

Jesus is here trying to help them understand the nature of the spiritual resource that will be supplied to them. But their minds have become stuck on the physical presence of Jesus in the midst of the hostile world. Therefore the task was to help these disciples realize that another powerful resource would be made available to them in the coming of the Paraclete.

I take Borchert to mean Jesus' statement is intended to jar the disciples from asking about "where" and focusing upon the "why," for Him to send the Holy Spirit. My counter to that view, however, is that as I noted above, Jesus actually spends numerous statements on reiterating the answer to "where," so that is significant.

John Peter Lange (with Philip Schaff in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John [1871; reprint Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008]) acknowledges the idea of the "where" being significant, but considers this verse to be a rebuke of where their thoughts are focused (so in that sense, the disciples focus is still what is being addressed, much like Borchert later emphasizes, but differently). Lange states:

The sense [of John 16:5] is as follows: ye give yourselves up to the sad thought that I go away and make no inquiries as to the glad thought: whither, namely, to the Father (471).

Another is Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871; reprint Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997). Specifically Brown is commenting on John's Gospel, and he takes a unified position, but opposite me, where the rhetoric is intended to elicit further inquiry:

and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou?—They had done so in a sort (Jn 13:36; 14:5); but He wished more intelligent and eager inquiry on the subject (2:158)

Of these commentators, few give any real "argument" for their statement. They simply make the statement of why they believe Jesus said what He did in John 16:5. Only Borchert gives some explanation, primarily being his view on the structure of the book of John, so that the

problem is tied into our human commitment to read John within sequential time and space frames

What the unified views tend to have in common is that Jesus is attempting to steer their focus elsewhere than from the "where" He is going. As my argument above goes, I believe the "where" is important (and answered), but it is from that "where" that the other important ideas flow about the significance of that "where" (a place prepared, the Holy Spirit's coming, their ability to do the work to come, etc.). So while I think these are important focuses that Jesus is making, He is doing so in the context of answering the "where" and why that "where" is itself significant.

Non-Unified Views

Borchert also lists some of those that do see the verse as being an issue (i.e. a non-unified view), though he is not explicit in noting whether they view the issue as being because of "conflated sources." I'll simply quote the relevant paragraph that might lead to further information to anyone that wants to follow the source trail (I have no more time to devote to this, nor do I believe conflated sources to be necessary to explain it, so I will not "waste" my time with pursuit of these):

The second part of v. 5, however, has created major problems for commentators. These words seem to be in direct contradiction to the questions of Peter (13:36) and Thomas (14:5). As such they led Bernard to a realignment of the chapters by inserting chaps. 15–16 after 13:31.[a] Bultmann followed this lead but also moved chap. 17 before 13:31–35 and then inserted chaps. 15–16 before 13:36.[b] But as I suggested in the discussion related to Bultmann’s moving of chap. 5 after chap. 6, such restructuring of the Gospel treats John as a poor historian who has little understanding of what he was doing in his organization. On the contrary, the organization of the pericopes in John serve his theological goal of communicating the vivid message of Jesus. The solutions of Brown,[c] Schnackenburg,[d] and Beasley-Murray[e] reject structural reorganization but blame such poorly aligned statements on a forgetful editor who failed to remove such inconsistencies.

At the very least, Borchert considers the last three authors to blame the "contradiction" on an editor of the text (whether from multiple sources or not, but that may be likely). I have used the bracketed superscripts in the quote above to help indicate Borchert's note references (enhanced from looking at his bibliography) to the following:

  • [a] J. Bernard, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. John, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1928), 1.xx.
  • [b] R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971), x–xi.
  • [c] R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John i-xii and John xiii–xxi, 29 and 29a, Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966, 1970), 2:710.
  • [d] Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John (New York: Crossroad, 1987), 3:126–27.
  • [e] G. Beasley-Murray, John, Word Biblical Commentaries (Waco: Word, 1987), 279.

Final Conclusion

Reading the context alone evidences a unified view is without issue (so no need to even conjecture conflation to resolve it), as John spends much time noting Jesus reiterating the "where" point. So a mildly rebuking, rhetorical question on Jesus' part to hammer home the point that if the disciples were listening, there should be no need to question the "where" any more is perfectly in sync with the discourse flow. The answer to "where" was important to supporting the other points of importance in the passage.


1 A previous answer attempted to play on the difference in verbs to answer the OP's question; that is, Peter and Thomas both "said" (λέγει; Jn 13:36, 14:5), whereas Jesus is noted to have used the verb "asked" (ἐρωτᾷ) in Jn 16:5. The answer there took the position that the answer to the OP's main question of "Uh, Jesus, didn't Simon Peter and Thomas just ask you this?" should be "no," rather than "yes," as I am advocating, because two different verbs are used. But this fails to realize that the "said" is a narrative statement of the author of John, essentially introducing a quote (or paraphrase) of the apostle's statements, and the "asking" is contained in the interrogative ποῦ, which means "Where?" (as in asking a question). So both Peter and Thomas are in fact "asking," even though the author did not choose to use a form of the verb ἐρωτάω to convey that in the narrative on them. In short, there is no merit at all in arguing from a distinction of verbs used for conveying these three statements.

2 BDAG, s.v. μή states this: "For the Koine of the NT the usage is simplified to such a degree that οὐ is generally the neg. used w. the indicative, and μή is used w. the other moods" (a similar statement is made in the entry for οὐ).

3 The use of οὐ as the lead to a question indicates the questioner expects an affirmative answer to that question (so BDAG, s.v. οὐ 3), whereas μή expects a negative answer (so BDAG, s.v. μή 3). The use of οὐδείς carries the same idea, though by its nature, as Douglas Charles Estes notes in The Questions of Jesus in John: Logic, Rhetoric and Persuasive Discourse in his discussion of John 8:10b (another question beginning with οὐδείς), οὐδείς contains "two negative polar items" in the compound word (page 161), so the question to be answered either with a form of "yes" or a form of "no," but both with the idea of affirming. So in this case of John 16:5, the answer can be "Yes, not one of us is asking "Where are you going?" or "No [affirming the negative], not one of us is asking "Where are you going?" thereby either way affirming the rhetorical question, that not one of them is asking any more.

  • Excellent response. Thank you very much. I was leaning towards unified already because John is pretty intentional in how he crafts his narrative (even where he "contradicts" the Synoptics; quotes because I am fully aware of the fact the philosophical notion of non-contradiction is somewhat anachronistic to first century Jewish historical narratives). – Dan Sep 2 '15 at 15:29

The answer to initial question, "Jesus, didn't Simon Peter and Thomas just ask you this?" is "No":

Simon Peter: Says to Him (13:36) λέγει αὐτῷ

Thomas: Says to Him (14:5) λέγει αὐτῷ

Jesus: Asks Me (16:5) ἐρωτᾷ με

There is a difference. Both Simon Peter and Thomas “Say (λέγει) to Him." Jesus says no one has "asked (ἐρωτᾷ)". Unless the two words mean the same, then neither Peter nor Thomas "asked (ἐρωτᾷ)."

Edwin Abbot's Johannine Grammar addresses that apparent ambiguous passages in the fourth gospel (1). The word Jesus used is ἐρωτᾷ which means "to make an earnest request, especially by someone on 'special footing' (Johannine Grammar, 467-8) such requesting receives special consideration because of the special relationship involved." (2)

While Simon Peter and Thomas “said” λέγει. Which means say or speak, tell or command. (3):

and said (λέγει) to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down… (Matthew 4:6 NKJV)

Then Jesus said (λέγει) to him, “Away with you, Satan!... (Matthew 4:10 NKJV)

Simon Peter and Thomas "said (λέγει)" to Jesus they did not ask (ἐρωτᾷ). Neither did any of the others, including the disciple whom "Jesus loved."

As Jesus nears the end and tells the disciples He is leaving, two say (λέγει) to Him and the others are silent. So none of the disciples asked λέγει Him, exactly as John has recorded.

  • The question asks which scholars support each theory, not which theory is correct. You answered a question that wasn't asked. – Wad Cheber stands with Monica Aug 28 '15 at 7:51
  • @Wad Cheber. The post presents 3 questions. My answer focuses on the first: "Uh, Jesus, didn't Simon Peter and Thomas just ask you this?" since the other 2 are predicated on this answer. The correct scholar is Edwin Abbot's Johannine Grammar (as noted in the answer). Once the word used is understood, the answer to the first question is "No. Simon Peter and Thomas did not just ask Jesus the same question." The question Jesus asked means exactly what it says in the original language and the issue is not just the 2 disciples who spoke; it is also the others who remained silent. – Revelation Lad Aug 29 '15 at 3:30

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