In John 11:21 and John 11:32, Martha and Mary make almost identical statements to Jesus.

The only difference in the greek is the placement of the possessive genitive first person singular pronoun. What are we seeing here in this story? Is there a significance to the variation in word ordering?

Why do they say identical statements? If the purpose of john’s gospel is so that we might believe, then how does this serve that purpose?

John 11:21 (NRSV), "Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”"


John 11:32 (NRSV), "When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”"

The greek:

  • Martha says: "Κύριε εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἂν ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός μου"
  • Mary says: "Κύριε εἰ ἦς ὧδε οὐκ ἄν μου ἀπέθανεν ὁ ἀδελφός"

Interesting note: Maria and Martha are separated by one letter in the greek alphabet. Theta and iota come right in sequence in the alphabet. Also, when crossed with the Luke account of Mary/Martha, I get a real Cain & Abel vibe.

  • Gus, maybe you should quote the Greek text of each in your question; and maybe even the English. And indicate what version(s) you are citing. Also, please phrase your question as a question. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Jul 18, 2020 at 16:44
  • 1
    Just updated it with the text and the greek.
    – Gus L.
    Jul 18, 2020 at 17:06
  • Mary here (v32) is Μαριὰμ - this is the OT Hebrew form and most likely the Aramaic form. Martha here (v30) is Μάρθα. Thus, they are a little more different. However, Mary can appear (but not in John 11) as Μαρία.
    – Dottard
    Jul 18, 2020 at 22:50

2 Answers 2


The Gospel of John is many things, including dramatic. John uses several literary devices to create drama and simple repetition is "an oldie but a goodie". It has been used in literature since ancient times up to the present.

The repetition of the phrase “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” serves several purposes:

  • It emphasizes the fact that this had presumably been discussed among Mary and Martha before Jesus had arrived
  • It also served to show that their grief had been mixed with disappointment at Jesus' delay that also created a sense of frustration
  • It also showed that none present realized that Jesus could or might raise Lazarus from the dead. (Although Martha displays some hope in John 11:27 possibly without fully understanding what she is saying.)
  • It underscores the fact (supported by the four days V39 and Jesus remark, V14, "Lazarus is dead") that Lazarus was truly dead.
  • In fact, there is a third instance where the crowds say something similar (V37), “Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind also have kept Lazarus from dying?

John clearly wanted to really hammer this point home very clearly and unambiguously!

The whole point of the story, which the dramatic element serves to emphasize, is summarized in Jesus' statement (V25, 26) -“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” And later (V40) - “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?

Then, against all expectation, Jesus raised Lazarus to life (and seals his fate, V45-54).


Good question. Indeed it is an irresistible story with vibes.

I don't think there is a significance to the variation in word ordering. In fact, I think John wanted to stress the repetition.

John 11:21 "Lord," Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

This sentiment is reinforced in

John 11:32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

The repetition thickens the plot so that the readers would go along with Mary and Martha's mindset: Lord, if you had been here, their brother would not have died. Yes Lord, you should have come earlier? Why didn't you?

Of course, the dramatic irony here is that the readers also knew earlier in John 11:4 Jesus said,

"This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."

But neither Mary and Martha knew that.

The questions in the minds of the readers are

  1. How will the irony unveil itself?
  2. Will Mary and Martha believe in the words of the Lord?
  3. How will Lazarus play it out?

The climax came in John 11:

43 Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."

From the story-telling perspective, John has successfully written a compelling account of the story of The Rising Lazarus. The readers are convinced of the power and the glory of Jesus Christ.

I would love to hear a professional story teller telling this story to a bunch of young teenagers and see their reactions.

The joke is that good thing Jesus had explicitly pointed out 'Lazarus' in "Lazarus, come out!". Otherwise pandemonium would break out on the scene.

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