I've answered this question based on "presumed the body of Jesus had instantly removed from the tomb leaving the garments as they had been worn, as if 'collapsing' as the body disappeared from their containment," in contrast to "that the linen cloth for the head was 'wrapped together' in a place by itself, meaning folded neatly and at some distance from the shroud." The way the initial question is asked does not distinguish between these. It is obvious in the text that the linen is left neatly in order.
There is somewhat of a consensus among the commentators that the text does not answer this question. However, the argument that that Jesus passed through the linen strips, leaving them undisturbed, is bases on a comparison with the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. People had to unwrap Lazarus.
The repeated mention of the grave-clothes makes two major points. (i)
A contrast with the earlier resurrection of Lazarus is intended. The term σουδάριον for head cloth had been employed previously in 11:44. In the case of Lazarus, at Jesus’ command he had come out of the tomb still bound, with his hands and feet in bandages and his head still wrapped in a cloth. Now the linen wrappings from around the body are lying in one place and the cloth from around the head is rolled up and in a place by itself. Lazarus had had to be freed in order to take up life again in this world. But Jesus’ own sovereignty over death is shown in the way he has left behind the wrappings associated with death. (ii) There is also an apologetic significance. The tomb had not been robbed and the body stolen, otherwise why would the clothes have been carefully removed? With its claim that others have not taken Jesus away but he himself has demonstrated that death could not hold him, the description of the grave-clothes suggests a narrative fulfilment of the saying about Jesus’ bodily life in 10:18—‘No one has taken it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.’
Lincoln, A. T. (2005). The Gospel according to Saint John (p. 490). Continuum.
This is the astounding phenomenon: “the linen bands lying.” Nothing whatever had been done with them, they were merely lying. We are not to imagine that they had been unwound from the body as was done with the grave bands of Lazarus when he came to life. Neither had they been cut or stripped off in some other way. They lay just as they had been wound about the limbs and the body, only the body was no longer in them, and thus the wrappings lay flat. All the aromatic spices were exactly as they had been strewn between the layers of linen, and these layers, one wound over the other, were numerous, so that all those spices could be held between them.
For his own glance from the door John writes βλέπει, “he sees”; for Peter standing inside close beside the casket-like place in which the linen bands lay John writes θεωρεῖ, “he beholds,” “he views.” Peter stood there, looking and looking at those bands.
No human being wrapped round and round with bands like this could possibly slip out of them without greatly disturbing them. They would have to be unwound, or cut through, or cut and stripped off. They would thus, if removed, lie strewn around in disorder or heaped in a pile, or folded up in some way. If the body had been desecrated in the tomb by hostile hands, this kind of evidence would appear. But hostile hands would have carried off the body as it was, wrappings and all, to get it away as soon as possible and to abuse it later and elsewhere. But here the linen bands were. Both their presence and their undisturbed condition spoke volumes. Here, indeed, was a sign to behold. It corroborated what the women had told Peter and John on the way out to the tomb: Jesus was risen from the dead!
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel (pp. 1341–1342). Augsburg Publishing House.
- A second sign lay beside the first. The σουδάριον, which had been on the head of Jesus, bound around it to envelop the head, lay in a place apart from the wrappings, neatly folded up, or we may say, rolled up. It had not been snatched off and thrown aside. The perfect participle is passive: somebody had carefully folded this cloth and had laid it there in the most orderly way, that it should serve as a second witness to testify to the resurrection of Jesus. The Greek term is the Latin sudarium, taken over also into the Aramaic, the German Schweisstuch, literally “sweat-cloth.” “Napkin” was a good translation in the time of Shakespeare and the A. V. but will not do now even if modern translators use it for lack of something better; “handkerchief” is likewise inappropriate. It is well that John describes it: “which was upon the head.” The difference between the way in which the linen bands were simply “lying” and the way in which the headcloth was folded up and laid “apart in a place by itself” is too marked, too intentional, to warrant the conclusion that the bands were also folded up after having been stripped off (Nebe). The very opposite is indicated. If both the headcloth and the bands had been folded up, neither would indicate the miracle of the resurrection. Then Peter and John could conclude only that friendly human hands had for some strange reason unclothed the dead body and taken it away. What these disciples saw was vastly more.
One may ask why Jesus had not left the cloth as he did the bands, simply passing out of it and leaving its fastenings undisturbed; for that, too, would have been an eloquent sign. One answer is that then both the cloth and the bands would have uttered the same testimony; then Jesus would have left but one witness. He left two (Matt. 18:16). Folding up the cloth and placing it apart from the bands indicates an ordering hand. We may think of an angel. The preposition εἰς is static, R. 593: “in one place” (not “into”), and χωρίς appears as an adverb only here in the New Testament, R. 648.
Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The interpretation of St. John’s gospel (pp. 1342–1343). Augsburg Publishing House.
This cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Clearly, John perceives these details to be important, but their exact meaning is disputed. Some have thought that the burial cloth still retained the shape of Jesus’ head, and was separated from the strips of linen by a distance equivalent to the length of Jesus’ neck. Others have suggested that, owing to the mix of spices separating the layers, even the strips of linen retained the shape they had when Jesus’ body filled them out. Both of these suggestions say more than the text requires. What seems clearest is the contrast with the resurrection of Lazarus (11:44). Lazarus came from the tomb wearing his grave-clothes, the additional burial cloth still wrapped around his head. Jesus’ resurrection body apparently passed through his grave-clothes, spices and all, in much the same way that he later appeared in a locked room (vv. 19, 26). The description of the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head does not suggest that it still retained the shape of the corpse, but that it had been neatly rolled up and set to one side by the one who no longer had any use for it. The description is powerful and vivid, not the sort of thing that would have been dreamed up; and the fact that two men saw it (v. 8) makes their evidence admissible in a Jewish court (Dt. 19:15).
Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (pp. 637–638). Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.
6–7 It is not said how much later Peter arrived. But when he got there he did not hesitate but went straight into the tomb. He saw the cloths that had been around the body. John specifically mentions that the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head was not with the others, but was wrapped up in a place of its own (Berkeley renders “in its particular place,” but this seems to go beyond the meaning of the Greek). In recent years this has often been taken to mean that the grave clothes were just as they had been when placed around the body. That is to say, Jesus’ body rose through the grave-clothes without disturbing them. This is not inconsistent with the language, but we should bear in mind that John does not say this. That the headcloth18 was not with the others scarcely supports the view, for had this been the case it would have been right alongside them, with no more than the length of the neck (if that) between them. Moreover, “folded up” does not look like a description of the way it would have appeared if the head had simply passed through it. However, whatever be the truth of this, John is plainly describing an orderly scene, not one of wild confusion. This means that the body had not been taken by grave robbers. They would never have left the cloths wrapped neatly. They would have taken the body, cloths and all, or would have taken the cloths off and dropped them in a heap.
Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (p. 735). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
20:6–7. Had robbers stolen the body (a rare practice) they would have taken it in its wrappings; had they left the wrappings, they would have left them in disarray. Whoever left them, left them there neatly. The face cloth separate from the linen is not merely “folded up” (NIV) but “rolled up” (NASB, NRSV, TEV), which could be an indication of neatness, or that it was still rolled the way it had been when it was wrapped around Jesus’ head—that his body had risen straight out of the wrappings and cloth.
The skeptic’s proposal that Jesus had only swooned and then recovered would not explain how he could have loosed the strips tied around him or escaped a sealed tomb, but it also ignores the nature of crucifixion: Josephus had three of his friends taken down alive from a cross, but two of them died despite medical attention because their bodies had been so weakened from the crucifixion.
Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 20:6–7). InterVarsity Press.
Just what did all this mean? It is necessary to stress at this point that not more must be read into the text than is actually there. Ideas such as these, namely, that the headband was lying there as if it had not been removed from the head, and that the bandages were lying there just as if the limbs of Jesus were still enclosed by them, or as if the body had been abstracted from them, are foreign to the text. We do not even know exactly where the linen bandages and the sweat-band were lying. Neither John nor Luke (in his Gospel, 24:12) says anything about such matters. What Luke emphasizes is that the bandages were lying there by themselves, which, again, does not mean that they were being held in position mysteriously and in violation of the laws of gravity; but simply indicates that they were lying there without the body.
The facts which are actually related are wonderful enough without exegetical (?) embellishments. What they indicate is this: everything was orderly in the tomb. The body of the Lord was no longer there. No disciple had been there to remove it, nor had any enemy visited the tomb in order to pillage it. In either case the bandages would no longer have been present. Could it be that the Lord had himself removed the bandages and the sweat-band, had provided for himself a garment such as is worn by the living, had calmly and majestically “put everything in its place” in the tomb, putting the bandages here and the sweat-band there (neatly folded or rolled up in a place by itself), and had then departed from the tomb, gloriously alive?
Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, p. 450). Baker Book House.