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On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" John 20:19

Some translate, 'shut doors' (κεκλεισμένων kekleismenōn) which is quite different from 'locked' when we read of Jesus entering in somewhat intriguing circumstances.

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  • please continue...
    – Steve
    Aug 23, 2020 at 21:01
  • . . . . but, risen from the dead, having exited a sepulchre with a large stone barring the only way out, he now appears 'in the midst', through a door which barred the only way in.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 24, 2020 at 0:54
  • @NigelJ nice work, but wait - there's more...!
    – Steve
    Aug 24, 2020 at 0:59

2 Answers 2

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The operative verb here is κλείω, κεκλεισμένων in this case, Perfect Participle Middle or Passive - Genitive Feminine Plural.

This is tricky so stay with me here. The cognate relative of the word is κλείς (kleis) which is simply "key" used for locking a door.

However, the verb κλείω occurs 16 times in the NT and means, according to BDB:

to prevent passage at an opening, shut, lock, bar

This word is translated as either "shut" or "lock" in various places such as:

  • clearly "shut": Matt 6:6, Luke 4:25, 11:7, 1 John 3:17, etc
  • clearly "lock": Acts 5:23.

Some of the occurrences are debatable and John 20:19 is certainly debatable. That is, it could be translated, quite validly, as either "shut" or "locked", or even (more likely) "barred", that is, closed and a beam or wood placed across the door and most humble homes could not afford the expense of a lock.

Therefore, my preference in this case is "barred" because the disciples were frightened "for fear of the Jews". The context suggests that Jesus simply "appeared" among them miraculously because no door is described as being opened. Ellicott observes here:

When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled . . .—This fact is noted here and in John 20:26, and the obvious intention is to point out that the appearance was preternatural. The body of the risen Lord was indeed the body of His human life, but it was not subject to the ordinary conditions of human life. The power that had upheld it as He walked upon the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21) made it during those forty days independent of laws of gravitation and of material resistance. (Comp. Notes on Luke 24:15-16; Luke 24:31; Luke 24:39.) The supposition that the doors were shut, and were miraculously opened (comp. Acts 12:10), is opposed to the general impression of the context, and the incident is one which would probably have been mentioned.

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  • ty v much. tho I'd take exception to the 'walking on water' as that was pre-ascension. But I know where yr at so, we'll leave that alone. Appreciate the 'barred' explanation.
    – Steve
    Aug 23, 2020 at 13:10
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In modern Greek there is a distinction between "to shut a door" (κλείνω την πόρτα) and "to lock a door" (κλειδώνω την πόρτα), but in Koine Greek there is only κλείω.

The verb κλείω (kleiw) is related to the word κλείς (kleis), which is translated "key", but is really kind of a bar rather than the modern type of key we might imagine. In Homer's Odyssey, for example, there is a passage that mentions the use of a κλείς as a bar to secure a door shut. This occurs in Book 23, when Odysseus and Penelope reunite after he has slain the suitors. The passage in Ancient Greek is as follows:

τοῖσι δ' ἐπὶ κληῒθρα βάλεν χεῖρα πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς,
εἵλετο καὶ δὴν κλεῖν ἐπὶ πρῶτον, ὄφρα τάχιστα
κλείς ἐπιστροφέην κατὰ πάσσαλον εἴσω ἤλασεν.

In English, this can be translated to:

Resourceful Odysseus put his hand on the doorpost,
and, quickly securing the door, drove the sturdy bar with a whirling motion
down into the socket.

Note both the verb and noun occur in the passage.

This all suggests that κλείω probably means "lock" and not simply "shut" in the New Testament, but it is not completely unambiguous. @Dottard offers a good argument for κλείω meaning "to lock" in this case, though, given that the disciples were fearful.

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