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On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the disciples had gathered together [...]

John 20:19 (NET)

Can we know from this chapter or verse whether only the elven apostles are present int the room, or other followers as well?

Disciples does not imply apostles, generally, but does it in this verse? Or is it reasonable to assume other disciples (other than the eleven apostles) are present here? I know Luke presents others for sure, in his parallel episode, but I'd like to only use the Gospel of John as rationale.

This is important in order two understand to whom Jesus gives the Spirit three verses later in John 20:22

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    Note should also be taken of the expression, in John 20:24, 'one of the twelve' (despite that, Judas being deceased there were only eleven meaning, Thomas absent, there were only ten present). Up-voted +1. The very mention of twelve emphasises a meaning other than 'disciple' in the context.
    – Nigel J
    Mar 19, 2023 at 12:29

5 Answers 5

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Note should also be taken of the expression, in John 20:24, 'one of the twelve' (despite that, Judas being deceased, there were only eleven, meaning - Thomas absent - there were only ten present).

The very mention of twelve emphasises a meaning other than 'disciple' in the context. The fact that only eleven now could be designated 'living apostle' begs the question, Why mention the figure 'twelve' ? The mention surely presupposes a complement that shall be, somehow, renewed to a significant completeness.

As in many other scriptures, one has to note each reference (and referent) and apply the wording spoken to suitably specific referents when several referents may be present.

Some wording will be appropriate to 'disciples'.

Some wording will be appropriate to 'apostles' (twelve).

It will be a matter of intelligent (and spiritual) interpretation to sort out what refers to what.

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Briefly, in restored papyrus P66, and also in codices Sinaiticus (01, א); Alexandrinus (02, A); Vaticanus (03, B); Bezae Cantabrigiensis (05, D), and Washingtonius (032, W) at John 20:19, μαθηται; i.e., "disciples" (learners, pupils), is parsed as being a masculine plural noun. This verse doesn't specify which or how many men were in attendance, but the masculine parsing indicates Jesus' feminine (women) followers were not assembled with the men.

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I've just looked up Westcott's commentary, and he draws our attention to "the eleven and those that were with them" (and also the two returned from Emmaus) in Luke ch24 v33. Luke, anyway, is not limiting the gathering to the specific apostles.

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There are two comments to make about the composition of "the disciples" as recorded by John 20:22

Eleven??

We know that whatever "disciples" means it does NOT mean (at this point) "the eleven" precisely because Thomas was absent as recorded in John 20:24.

Disciples

The word "disciple" is translated from the Greek, μαθητής (mathétés) = pupil, student, one who is associated with learning from a master (Christ in this case) who shares the views and practices of the master (BDAG).

It means more than just "the twelve" or "the eleven" for the following reasons

  • In Matt 28:19, Jesus specifically instructs the disciples to make more disciples
  • Luke 6:17 describes a large crowd of Jesus disciples
  • Luke 19:37 also describes a large multitude of disciples
  • John 6:66 also appears to be the same usage

Thus, "disciple" appears to mean any believer/adherent of Jesus, whether male of female which applied after Jesus' death and resurrection:

  • Acts 6:1 - In those days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Grecian Jews among them began to grumble against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
  • Acts 6:7 - So the word of God continued to spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew rapidly, and a great number of priests became obedient to the faith.
  • Acts 9:1 - Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord. He approached the high priest
  • Acts 9:10 - In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias.
  • Acts 9:19 - and after taking some food, he regained his strength. And he spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
  • Acts 11:26 - and when he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. So for a full year they met together with the church and taught large numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. [Note that at this point, most of the original eleven were still in Jerusalem.]
  • Acts 11:29 - So the disciples, each according to his ability, decided to send relief to the brothers living in Judea.
  • Acts 13:52 - And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. [This appears to refer to Paul and Barnabas.]
  • Acts 15:10 - Now then, why do you test God by placing on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? [This refers to all Christians.]
  • Acts 21:16 - Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us, and they took us to stay at the home of Mnason the Cypriot, an early disciple.

In John 20:22, we are not told, at least in that verse, who composed the group. However, as pointed out by the OP, the parallel passage in Luke 24:36-49 says many people were there, including Cleopas (V18).

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Whereas we find both the words apostle (ἀπόστολος) and disciple (μαθητής) in the synaptic Gospels, John only uses the word μαθητής, so it is difficult sometimes to determine whether he is speaking of one of what he calls the twelve (οἱ δώδεκα) or disciples that also include those who are not apostles.

Generally Christian commentators in antiquity (e.g. John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria) understood that only the Apostles were present, but generally they focus more on the broader theological significance of the event rather than the precise identity of the disciples involved.

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