John 20:9 says:

YLT: for not yet did they know the Writing, that it behoveth him out of the dead to rise again.
NKJV: For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.
NIV: (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)
NLT: for until then they still hadn't understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead.

These translations do have slightly different meanings, but that is not what this question is asking about.

Which specific scripture or writing was it that they didn't know or understand?

  • I don't think we need to look for a specific scripture, but to various scriptures which the early church interpreted as predicting that the messiah would suffer. @Dottard lists several. I'd add that John 20 is dealing with a similar principle to Luke 24, where the disciples still believe that Jesus was to "restore Israel." To this, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures." Dec 2, 2022 at 2:48

5 Answers 5


John 20:9 - They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.

1 Cor 15:4 - that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

Both these verses refer to Jesus' resurrection on the third day as fulfilling Scripture - but which Scripture?

There is not a single verse in the OT but a small collection of them, that, taken together tell the whole story. Note the following:

  • Ps 16:10 - For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.
  • Isa 53:10 - Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
  • Hos 6:2 - After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His presence.
  • Jonah 1:17 - And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
  • Matt 12:40 - For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

See also Isa 55:3, Ps 2:7, etc.

Thus, both Paul and Jesus clearly understood that Jesus was to rise from the dead on the third day.

Michael Brown writes in his Jewish Objections to Jesus, Vol. 3. Messianic Prophecy Objections. [Foonote page 352] …

“Based on this biblical data, the German biblical scholar Roland Gradwohl argued that “ ‘three days’ is a stereotyped phrase used by the Old Testament in describing a situation when something will be fulfilled or completed within a useful and reasonable time.… The ‘third day’ is used to describe the moment when an event attains its climax.” Another German scholar, K. Lehmann, wrote an entire volume on the subject of resurrection on the third day, pointing to passages such as Exodus 19:11, 16; Genesis 22:4; 2 Kings 20:5; Esther 5:1; Hosea 6:2 as evidence that the third day was associated with special divine activity, something that caught the attention of the ancient rabbis as well. These insights, coupled with some key verses about restoration, salvation, or rescue from death on the third day, give Paul the right to say that the Messiah rose from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. There would have been no day more suitable than this, from the viewpoint of the Word of God.


In Westcott's commentary on the verse (The Gospel of John, p290) the Bishop remarks that "the reference is probably to Psalm 16 v10". This reads "For thou dost not give me up to Sheol or let thy godly one see the pit" (RSV)

Now Peter in Acts says that David "foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned in Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption" (Acts ch2 v31). This also looks like a reference to Psalm 16 v10, which supports the idea that John was thinking of that verse.

Another possibility is a verse in Hosea; "After two days he will revive us; on the third day, he will raise us up" (Hosea ch6 v2, RSV). This has been proposed as the source for Paul's statement that Christ was "raised on the third day accoerding to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians ch15 v4, RSV).


Just like others have already stated, it may refer to many places in the OT. If I had to chose one, it would probably be Deuteronomy 18:18:

I will raise them up [from the dead] a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

Jesus' resurrection was His ultimate validation as the prophet like (greater than) Moses.


There are various Scriptures suggested by the Church Fathers.

... and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17)

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption (Psalm 16:10)

After two days will he revive us: In the third day he will raise us up, And we shall live in his sight (Hosea 6:2)

The first is perhaps the most obvious, since Jesus Himself suggested it (Matthew 12:40, Luke 11:30). It is mentioned by Cyril of Alexandria in his commentary on John.1. The second is suggested by Augustine.2 The last by Origen.3

1. Book XII, Chapter 4 (PG 74:764)
2. Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 121, Chapter 3 (NPNF 1-07)
3. Commentary on John, Book XX, Chapter 6 (ANF 9)


The four New Testament canonical gospels were not written contemporaneously with the events described within them nor with each other. Mark was the first to be written (about 70CE) and John the last (about 100CE). By “scriptures” is it that John may not have been referring to the Old Testament but in fact to the three canonical gospels that were already in existence?

There is a tension, of course, in identifying Old Testament passages to which John might be referring, as the concept of “messiah” in the Old Testament is not a reference to a divine being but is more akin to that of a “warrior king” that will throw off oppressors (see for example, Psalm of Solomon 17:21-32). The predicted arrival of this “warrior king” was eagerly sought, for example, by the Zealots in the first century CE.Hence the Christian concept of “messiah” does not sit easily with the concept of “messiah” in Judaism/Old Testament.

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