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In John 11:16, it is written,

ΙϚʹ εἶπεν οὖν Θωμᾶς ὁ λεγόμενος Δίδυμος τοῖς συμμαθηταῖς Ἄγωμεν καὶ ἡμεῖς ἵνα ἀποθάνωμεν μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ TR, 1550

which may be translated as,

16 Then Thomas (who is called “Didymos”) said to his fellow-disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”

I’ve never quite understood Thomas’ remark. How is his remark to be explained? Was he really suggesting that everyone follow him to die? Is the remark a testimony to his courage and fidelity, or could it possibly be understood as sarcasm?

7 Answers 7

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Maybe there is some level of hebraism underlying Thomas' statement? Certainly Thomas' perspective on death and funerals was different than ours?

I read Thomas' statement as being something more akin to "let's keep him company in his death" in English than the literal "we are all going to die too" reading of the text; whether there is sarcasm there or not is another question (as westerners we tend to take sarcasm for granted, thought it isn't necesarily as prevelant in other cultures) that I don't feel prepared to answer. I will say that to read sarcasm into it seems eisegetic to me, because there doesnt seem to be enough just in the text to imply it on its own. (Did hebrews in the first century make sarchastic 'jokes' about death?)

'Dying with him' in a hebrew sense could be a reflection of cultural focus on community/the group mentality of sharing in important moments/daily tasks together as opposed to western individualism where everyone performs tasks by themselves ((and we all die alone)) ;)

I see it as being similar to the hebrew wedding processions where EVERYONE showed up to 'get married together' - it wasn't seen as an individual activity, or an activity for just the bride and the groom. Doing it alone wasn't an option (like it is in our culture), because it was group activity. Jesus' comments about the bridegroom's companions further confirm this for me: "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?" Mt 9:15 If we interpret Jesus' words literally and in western, individualistic mindset, then they don't make any sense. We have to see them through a diferent cultural lense.

Thomas' remarks then aren't extraordinary in any way; they portray a certain level of faithfulness, but not the 'do or die' bravado that the english reader mas see in them.

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Elaine Pagels says, in Beyond Belief, page 70, that she sees a principal objective of John's Gospel was to refute the beliefs of the Thomas Christians. It was John who created Doubting Thomas, and only John presents a challenging and critical portrait of the disciple he calls “Thomas, the one called Didymus”.

John is portraying Thomas critically, and John 11:16 is intended as hidden sarcasm attributed to Thomas - he did not believe Jesus would raise Lazarus. This is not only a put-down for Thomas, but emphasises to John's readers how apparently unbelievable it was that Jesus could so easily raise Lazarus.

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John 11:16, what is the meaning of Thomas’ statement: “Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”

The Judeans were hostile and had murderous intent,they wanted to stone Jesus to death and Thomas was aware it,in verse John 11:8 we read :"The disciples said to Him,"Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are you going there again?"

Obviously Thomas and the other disciples were afraid that the hostile mobs of Jews would not only stone Jesus to death , but them as well . So Thomas said to his follow disciples: “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”( John 11:16b NASB)

John 11:7-16 (NASB)

7 "Then after this He *said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples *said to Him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world."

10 "But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 This He said, and after that He *said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep.” 12 The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking of [b]literal sleep. 14 So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead."

15 "And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go to him.” 16 Therefore Thomas, who is called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, so that we may die with Him.”

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I very much subscribe to the 'sarcastic' understanding of this verse. Within the group of Jesus's disciples, there are many personality types; a diverse range of outlooks; a range of ages; a diverse range of intelligence levels. I believe this was a deliberate and very clever choice of the Lord. Among His disciples, each of us can find at least one we can identify with, helping to make our understanding of Him personal. We aren't told that much about any of them, Thomas included. But putting together what we are told, I see someone who in a sense is very modern - quick to express an opinion; not very imaginative; not a very high IQ; not very well educated; a bit of a sceptical sourpuss. Chosen deliberately by Jesus so that those among us who are similarly inclined can identify with him. A very contemporary translation of John 11:16 I think might go something like "Oh yeah, great idea Jeez, go back where they've just tried to do you in! Why don't we all go back wiv yer, let's all get killed in the process! Durh!" But then what does he see? The dedication (and in a sense bravery) to His purpose in going back into Judea. And then the astonishing miracle that someone who had clearly been dead a number of days (Jews of this period believed it could take up to four days for the soul to completely leave the body - that's why this four day delay is so significant). Yet later even despite witnessing this, would not believe his fellows claiming to see Jesus after the resurrection. He could be saying "You lot are mental! Jesus is dead, time to move on." And then eight days later... I suspect he ended up with a knowledge and faith deeper than many of us. "My Lord and my God! I've seen it all now! Whooda thought..." In Perth Art Gallery, there is a most wonderful 'portrait' by Rennaisance artist Galli of a remarkably modern-looking Jesus displaying His wounds to Thomas. The look on His face clearly says to me "NOW do you believe Me?"

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    Apr 18, 2023 at 12:36
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After reading it in koine greek, there is no sarcasm from Thomas's side. It's purely simple. Thomas said to all that if Jesus would be killed, then they should die too. It's simple logic as it is told in the koine greek. No sarcasm, doubt or hesitation from Thomas. It's actually a show of love and dedication from Thomas to Jesus and the rest of the disciples.

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  • Hi Don! Welcome to Hermeneutics.SE. You might take the tour if you have not already to get an idea of what constitutes a thorough answer.
    – colboynik
    Oct 20, 2018 at 5:20
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Thomas' attitude always reflects our mental attitude, which is too logical, limited, finite and concrete. The natural man has two-(twin) mindedness. One is the common concrete mind we normally use everyday and the other one is the abstract mind we use if we want to reach something unknown, such as the stature of GOD' S Infinity. There are verses in the bible that show how skeptical Thomas was. These two verses show that he didn't know the way where Jesus was going (John 14:5) and he did not believe that Jesus had already resurrected from the dead (John 20:25). These are but natural reflections of our limited concrete mind. However, since Thomas accordingly is one of the disciples called upon by the Lord, it is a mere representation of developing our concrete minds up to an abstract level in order to reach the level of Infinity, a challenge given by God to everyone. This higher development of mind is seen when biblical Thomas realized the presence of the Lord's infinite power and expressed the words, "My Lord and My GOD " (John 20:28). The Lord says Blessed is he who cannot see and yet believes. GOD is Spirit , so we must worship Him in Truth and in Spirit (John 4 :23-24). Brothers and Sisters, in order for us to reach God's Eternity, we must see the perspective of life not in a physical, material way; but, as St. Paul says, "look not at the things which are seen , but at the things which are not seen; for the things which we see are Temporal , but the things which are not seen, Eternal." (II Cor. 4: 18).

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    – enegue
    May 8, 2017 at 4:56
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I think Thomas's statement came out of burning zeal, passion and love for the Lord knowing what exactly awaits the Master in Judea, he fully knew there's no how they'll watch them stone Jesus without them intercepting or fighting back even to the cost of their own life!

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    – Dottard
    Jan 3, 2021 at 6:05
  • It doesn't have to be either or. He could be using sarcastic humor to call everyone's attention to the risks involve, but still be willing to go on a suicide mission if that's just what his master is determined to do. In the preceding verses the disciples try to dissuade Jesus from taking this trip for danger of death. But its not guaranteed that they will die on this trip so Thomas is clearly over exaggerating the risks.
    – Austin
    Apr 19, 2023 at 6:37